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Pandemic serving up challenges for domestic scene

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-25 09:02
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Zheng Saisai, pictured at the Qatar Open in February, is a member of the Guangzhou-based Star River Professional Tennis Club, which is facing challenges in resuming coaching sessions. [Photo/GETTY IMAGES]

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to play havoc with the international tennis calendar, clubs and event organizers in China are sparing no effort to maintain operations despite ongoing uncertainties over the sport's restart.

With some of its players and coaches stuck outside of China due to the pandemic, Guangzhou-based Star River Professional Tennis Club has managed to keep the action going by adopting flexible and safe training programs at its own facility while providing online technical support for those trapped overseas.

Most of the club's players have returned to its base in the Guangdong provincial capital, but a lack of coaching staff due to China's temporary entry ban on foreigners has proved challenging, said Wang Jihong of the club's operation team.

"The virus outbreak has taken a heavy toll on our program. The biggest issue for us at the moment is the absence of our international coaching staff, which has made our local team's workload nearly unbearable," Wang told China Daily on Sunday.

The club, founded by Chinese-American coach Alan Ma in 2013, now hosts some of the world's best female players, including China's world No 34 Zheng Saisai and twotime Wimbledon last-16 finisher Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, at its Guangzhou base, which features eight practice courts, a fitness gym and an apartment building.

Even during the peak of China's outbreak earlier this year, the club came up with solutions to keep players busy and safe by separating their training sessions and adopting strict virus prevention measures, according to Wang.

"On the bright side, a lot of our players have had a long break that they normally wouldn't have to work on their technical flaws under the guidance of coach Ma," he said.

The suspension of the pro tours, which are targeting an August return, is also causing headaches for organizers of Chinese tournaments.

As the biggest men's and women's combined tournament in Asia, this year's China Open (Oct 3-11) in Beijing will clash with the second week of the twice-rescheduled French Open (Sept 27-Oct 11).

"We will be under huge pressure should we open our tournament on the original schedule as we will draw international attention to how the event will be run with all the infection control and prevention measures taking place at the same time," Wu Yanan, general manager of marketing and branding at China Open Promotions Ltd, said during an online forum on Saturday.

Operators of another high-profile event scheduled for the following week, the Rolex Shanghai Masters on the ATP Tour, are preparing for all eventualities.

"We are still pushing ahead with our preparations in great confidence that the tournament can be held on time," said Huang Ming, general manager of organizer Shanghai Juss Event Management Co Ltd, during the forum.

"However, if it comes to the point where the event has to be canceled or rescheduled, we have also prepared to renegotiate business contracts with event shareholders."

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