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WTA boss bullish on China

By Xu Jingxi in Zhuhai, Guangdong | China Daily | Updated: 2016-11-07 07:58

WTA boss bullish on China

Zhang Shuai, China's No 1 and world No 28, returns to Timea Babos of Hungary during Thursday's round-robin match at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai in Zhuhai, Guangdong province. Zhang, a wild-card entry, won 7-6 (2), 6-4 to advance to the semifinals. WANG ZHIJIE/FOR CHINA DAILY

The chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association predicts the increasing popularity of the sport in China and the improvement in talent development will produce a successor to Li Na.

Zhang Shuai's impressive rise over the past year has excited Chinese fans after two-time Grand Slam winner Li retired in 2104. Zhang jumped from No 212 in the world to No 28 and made the quarterfinals at this year's Australian Open.

"There are a number of great players coming up through the Chinese system, which is encouraging," Steve Simon, WTA CEO, told China Daily at the weekend.

"Zhang has had a great year, but there are 19 other Chinese players in both singles and doubles ranked in the world's top 100, which says a lot for the development programs going on.

"There has been great success not only from the tournament side but also from the player side. We will see another Li Na come as a result of all the programs that are in place. We are very excited about the future of tennis in China."

With a strong commitment to the Chinese marketplace, the WTA has been vigorously expanding.

The female China Open was rebranded the Crown-Pearl Tournament in 2009 and two more high-level events were added: the Wuhan Open in 2014 and the Elite Trophy Zhuhai last year.

WTA boss bullish on China

With great support from local governments and the Chinese Tennis Association, Simon said the WTA is "bullish" about growing the Chinese marketplace. And so are the players.

"There are so many tournaments in China now, which is great for Chinese players because they have these opportunities to play a lot of tournaments to get some points to play at bigger events and Grand Slams," said Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, one of the big names competing at the Zhuhai tournament.

Over the past season China has hosted 11 tournaments sanctioned by the WTA and the men's Association of Tennis Professionals. Counting lower-level local competitions, the number of events totaled 77, with nearly $30 million in prize money.

Still, it's too early to say tennis has acquired mainstream popularity in China as a large number of empty seats were seen at the Wuhan Open and in Zhuhai, particularly on weekdays.

"We do need to work on the attendance of Chinese events, no question. This is obviously a marketplace that is just learning the sport," Simon said.

"We have to continue building a connection with the fans, but I'm very positive we're where we should be right now and I think we have a very bright future."

He suggested all the events in China should work toward creating their own personalities and providing unique experiences to their audiences.

"I always say that tennis events need to be more than just the competition on the court. There should be activities that are adventurous to people and make them want to spend their time and money pursuing after they get off from work or get out of school," Simon said.

"Great events need to cater to the local audience."

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