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China Open to serve up even more action

Organizers announce 2024 expansion of sport's flagship Asian event

By SUN XIAOCHEN | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-16 09:06
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Iga Swiatek in Miami, US, Mar 24, 2024. [Photo/Agencies]

With an expanded women's draw confirmed and some A-list men's stars set to return, this year's China Open is guaranteed to be a smashing success, and the country's tennis boom is set to scale new heights.

Already the biggest combined tennis event in Asia, the 2024 edition of the China Open will get bigger and better after organizers announced last week that its women's tournament will be upgraded to a two-week event with 96 draws, up from 64 last year, joining Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Rome to become the fifth top-flight WTA1000 tournament of that size.

On the men's side, its ATP500 tournament is expected to continue serving up above-its-ranks quality after Grand Slam champions Carlos Alcaraz of Spain and Daniil Medvedev of Russia both confirmed that they will return to Beijing this fall, after having featured in last year's star-studded men's draw.

The total prize money for the tournament, which runs from Sept 23-Oct 6, will be increased to a record $13.14 million this year, with all the women's top-75 players required to compete at the WTA mandatory tournament, and most of the men's top stars drawn to the second-tier ATP500 event.

"I am super excited to come back to China this year for the China Open. Beijing is a beautiful city and I really had fun last year. Obviously I will be there to defend my title, so I will give it a go and do my best," the current women's world No 1, Iga Swiatek of Poland, said in a video message played at a news conference in Beijing announcing the event upgrade on Friday.

"I am also super happy that the tournament is getting bigger ... so for sure we are excited for the fans," said the four-time major singles champion, who won her China Open debut last year.

Men's fourth-ranked ace Medvedev, citing the enthusiasm of the fans during his first visit to the Chinese capital last year, is also eager to return.

"I enjoyed my first trip in Beijing last year. It's a very enthusiastic crowd in Beijing. So I am really looking forward to coming back this year," said the 2021 US Open champion, who finished runner-up in Beijing last year after being beaten by Italy's Jannik Sinner in the final.

To accommodate a larger group of competitors, especially a 30 percent rise in women's players, the tournament will further improve facilities at Beijing's already world-class National Tennis Center, which is home to 34 courts, including four built inside stadiums and three clay surfaces.

More importantly, tournament organizers will keep going the extra mile to optimize services and operations to make it an unforgettable experience not only for the players, but also fans and sponsors during the fortnight, said the tournament's co-director Lars Graff.

"Last year, there were improvements made, and you thought that this is it. No, no, no. Now we start all over again," Graff, a former vice-president of the men's ATP tour, told China Daily.

"The locker rooms are going to be bigger, because we have more players coming in. And, of course, the gym, which was newly built last year, is going to be made bigger. We have to increase it by fifty percent.

"We always try to improve the fan experience, because they are the most important. To make it a fun experience (for everyone), we look at other tournaments to see what are they doing for the fans, and then think about what can we do."

During the 2023 edition, the first event held after a three-year pandemic hiatus, China Open witnessed records broken in multiple areas, such as a total attendance of 250,000, reaching on-site consumption of 18 million yuan ($2.5 million) and marking a 33.9 percent increase in total viewership in Europe.

The men's tournament also attracted eight out of the top 10 stars, the most in the event's history, in a field even stronger than some of the higher-level ATP1000 Masters, with the final between Medvedev and Sinner selling out the 15,000-seat Diamond Court.

Now, with China's own top players quickly climbing the pro ranks, Graff believes that the sport's popularity, facilitated by the prestigious tournament, will enjoy exponential growth.

"It will be a huge advantage for spectators to have a chance to see the Chinese players in action," said Graff, who's been following the sport's development in China since he was an event supervisor with the ATP.

"They're doing very well internationally, and now they're coming home to play. So, what might happen is that some of the top (overseas) players might have to go to outside courts ... because we have more Chinese players coming in. I think that tennis is booming right now in China."

Led by women's world No 7 Zheng Qinwen, a 2024 Australian Open finalist, China currently has seven players ranked in the top 100 on the WTA circuit, while on the men's side, 47th-ranked Zhang Zhizhen is spearheading a talented group, which includes teen sensation Shang Juncheng and 2023 ATP Dallas Open winner Wu Yibing, into uncharted territory.

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