China and Japan may be duking it out for territorial bragging rights in the East China Sea, but on the tennis court it is very much advantage China.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced this week that, from 2014, a new tournament in Wuhan will replace the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, which will celebrate a bittersweet 30th – and last – anniversary this year.
This is shaping up to be a huge tournament, with at least seven of the year-end ranked top 10 players due to appear in Li Na’s hometown, competing for more than $2 million in prize money.
It’s not quite game, set and match: Japan is still clinging onto the Japan Women’s Open in Osaka in October, but by that time China will already have hosted five events, including four tournaments in consecutive weeks in September. One of those, the Hong Kong Open, will also make its debut in 2014.
An official in Japan said Tokyo has not yet given up hope of retaining its tournament, arguing that the 2014 calendar is still only a “draft”. But that same official has already conceded that a reduction in prize money is possible, so the signs are not good.
Meanwhile in China it’s all about growth. Actual attendance at the China Open in Beijing in recent years has been patchy at best, but the sponsors don’t seem to mind and the TV executives have been keen to air more tennis in the wake of Li Na’s stunning French Open win in 2011.
China has three top players in the top 100 (to Japan’s two), but it’s the group of five more Chinese players ranked between 101-200, all aged 23 or younger, that could provide the headlines in years to come. Li, along with Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie, have spearheaded China’s tennis charge, but Zheng will join Li as a 30-something this year, while Peng is already 27.
Elsewhere, the WTA announced an expansion of its 2013 developmental series to six events – four of which will be in Greater China. It’s becoming a bit of a cliché to say it, but if only the men would keep up…