Zhang Shuai awaits the serve at the China Tennis Grand Prix in Nanjing, November 2009
Last weekend, the finals of the China Tennis Grand Prix took place in Nanjing. It was the culmination of a week-long event, which was actually the culmination of several months of tennis played at multiple levels in cities across China.
In its fourth year, and its second with Mercedes-Benz as title sponsor, this event is the training ground for the future stars of Chinese tennis—three, five, 10 years down the line. The program, put on by Beijing-based BIG International Group and the brainchild of its president, Tom McCarthy, for one week brings together three events under one roof: junior program Swing for the Stars, the University Tennis Challenge and the professional tournament, the China Tennis Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz Cup.
Tennis is in relatively good shape in China, thanks to recent success in majors by women like Zheng Jie and Peng Shuai, as well as the hosting of international tournaments and a decent supply of venues and recreational courts. The Chinese Tennis Association has also set itself apart from other national sports associations by experimenting this year with giving more freedom to top players.
After the tournament, sports blogger/Shanghaiist contributor Maggie Rauch sat down with Zhang Shuai, who’d just won 90,000 yuan with her doubles partner in the championship match of the Nanjing event. Zhang made history at this year’s China Open by defeating Dinara Safina and becoming the lowest ranked woman ever to knock of a world No. 1.
Among other things, Zhang spoke about how different the situation is for young kids playing tennis today than it was for her:
The situation for kids playing tennis today is much much better. They have a lot of opportunities to play, they can watch us play at these events and they can watch international tournaments on TV. Kids playing tennis today also come from more wealthy families so their overall condition is better when they start. Plus they have more support from companies like Mercedes-Benz that are helping the growth of tennis in China.
They can go to international clinics and international tennis academies. They have less pressure than we did. The pressure is smaller than before because when I was younger, only the best could reach the provincial team, then only the best of the best could join the national team, then just a few could get the opportunity to play in international tournaments. Today the young kids can attend more tournaments, and enjoy the sport more.
Check out China Sports Today for the full interview and more observations on the state of tennis in China.