China Seeing Influx Of WTA Events, But Questions Remain On Domestic Player Growth
In the six years since being granted special status by the Chinese Communist Party, the success of tennis players Li Na and Peng Shuai has "stoked not only national pride but a massive influx of tennis investment in China's most populous cities, creating a market estimated" at $4B, according to Shaun Assael of ESPN THE MAGAZINE. First came the WTA Shenzhen Open in '13, then the Wuhan Open, which will debut Sept. 21 in Li's hometown. Tokyo had "owned the WTA event for 30 years, but its facilities required major repairs" after a '11 earthquake. Not only did Wuhan "beat out Tokyo for the rights, but it promised to construct a stunning 15,000-seat tennis center with a retractable roof that is scheduled to open" in '15. This investment "coincides with an emerging" Chinese middle class, which has "disposable income to spend on tennis." China President Xi Jinping has "vowed to make Beijing an international sports capital." WTA Managing Dir of Asia-Pacific Operations Peter Johnston said, "The stars have aligned for us to a great degree." But Assael writes, "What happens when Li, 32, and Peng, 28, retire? Can China's talent supply keep up with its tennis demand?" That question is at the "heart of a paradox between the country's new-style capitalism and its old-style communism." While cities like Wuhan and Shenzhen are "paying for new tennis stadiums and inviting the world to see them," the Chinese Communist Party's coaches "aren't producing enough quality players to put in them." The WTA is "trying to help newcomers gain on-the-job training by starting a minor league series." Of the six WTA 125K Series events that are being launched this year to help amateurs earn ranking points, "four are in China." But the WTA "still has to overcome the entrenched interests" of Chinese coaches (ESPN THE MAGAZINE, 4/28 issue).