Beijing: The China Open is finally getting the international recognition it deserves but it also needs successful Chinese players to make an impact, the tournament co-director says.
Thomas Ross, a veteran of the tennis scene in the United States, was brought in this year to help boost the overseas profile of China’s biggest tennis tournament.
The annual event this year attracted almost all the top women — new mother Serena Williams an exception — and many of the best men’s players.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal lifted the men’s title on Sunday and France’s unseeded Caroline Garcia stunned new women’s No. 1 Simona Halep in their final.
Ross, who has represented top stars including Michael Chang and Lleyton Hewitt, told AFP how he had witnessed the China Open grow from humble beginnings.
“I had been to this tournament in the early days, over 10 years ago, when it was just a start-up,” he said.
“In that small gym over a decade ago it would have been hard to envision it becoming as big as it has here at this venue.”
The China Open takes place on part of the sprawling complex which was built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
It is a “Premier Mandatory” event on the women’s WTA Tour, putting it on a par with the respected and well-established Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid.
Ross hopes the men’s event will now scale the next rung on the men’s ATP Tour.
It is currently an ATP 500 event, on a par with a concurrent Tokyo tournament but below this week’s Shanghai Masters, where Nadal was heading fresh from his Beijing triumph.
“The recognition is coming ... for this event, the biggest combined WTA/ATP event in Asia, in the capital of China, it’s only a matter of time,” said Ross.
But he conceded that a big-name Chinese player would be “incredibly important” for the tournament.
China has only ever produced one Grand Slam winner, the now-retired Li Na, and while there are three Chinese women in the top 50, the men are lagging.
“The men isn’t as successful a story, or at least not yet,” said Ross, adding how the American Chang, who won the French Open at 17, was among those “baffled” by the dearth of competitive Chinese men.
But Ross is optimistic, citing the emergence of Wu Yibing, the 17-year-old who won the junior title at last month’s US Open.
Wu lost his opener at the Shanghai Masters on Sunday to France’s Gilles Simon.
Li said earlier this month that she was disappointed that she remained China’s biggest tennis star, three years after her retirement.
“Actually, I didn’t like (that) people always remember me,” she told journalists at the Wuhan Open.
“(When) I decided to retire, I was thinking next day (new Chinese winners) would come,” she added.