Zhuhai serves up an ace

By Sun Xiaochen in Zhuhai, Guangdong province | China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-07 07:45

 Zhuhai serves up an ace

Champion Julia Goerges laps up the attention at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, where fans' enthusiasm and zeal made for an extra-special atmosphere at the WTA event. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Elite Trophy ticks all the boxes as its international renown grows

With its festive atmosphere and engrossing action on and off the court, the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai wrapped up the 2017 season in fine style on the weekend.

Julia Goerges' gutsy victory over second seed Coco Vandeweghe in Sunday's final provided an entertaining end to an event that pulled out all the stops in enhancing its international reputation.

"The tournament has been elevated to a new level in terms of international profile, player service and public influence in its third edition this year," Chen Yu, vice-president of Zhuhai Huafa Modern Service Investment, the tournament's organizer, told China Daily on Sunday.

Cheered by a capacity crowd on Hengqin Tennis Center's central court, Germany's Goerges overcame American Vandeweghe to claim her second title of the year.

The 29-year-old bravely battled back from 5-2 down in the first set to take 11 of the next 12 games and beat the fiery Vandeweghe 7-5, 6-1 in one hour and 20 minutes, with German tennis legend Steffi Graf watching from the stands.

Hot on the heels of her win in Moscow two weeks ago, the victory earned Goerges 700 ranking points, meaning she will end the season at a career-high No 14 in the world.

As champion, she joins the elite company of previous Zhuhai winners Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams.

Chinese pair Duan Yingying and Han Xinyun defeated compatriots Lu Jingjing and Zhang Shuai 6-2, 6-1 to claim the doubles title.

As the tour's season finale, Zhuhai attracted 12 of the world's top 20 singles players and six elite doubles pairs to compete in a round-robin format for a total prize purse of over $2.2 million.

Players were especially bowled over by the fans in the coastal city, which is contracted to host the tournament through 2019.

"These guys are amazing," gushed seventh seed Goerges. "They are so loud and so supportive. I enjoyed it very much and I just can't thank them enough."

The rousing reception was extended to some of the lower-profile players.

Although losing her semifinal with Goerges in straight sets, Latvia's world No 15 Anastasija Sevastova walked off court to loud, appreciative cheers after winning over spectators with her aggressive style and bold shots.

"I feel it's my best Asian tournament this year," said the 27-year-old, who was making her Zhuhai debut.

"I hadn't been playing so well in China, but here somehow it suits my game - the court, the balls and the fans' support. I'm very happy. I love Zhuhai."

Organizers did their utmost to keep players occupied between matches, with US Open champion Sloane Stephens and local favorite Zhang Shuai enjoying a trip to see the dolphins at Chimelong Ocean Park, for example.

"I really enjoyed it as I've been interested in dolphins since I was little," said Zhang.

"To get to see them and spend some time away from competition helped me stay fresh."

The tournament is part of Zhuhai's overall push to boost its international profile.

According to organizer Huafa Group, the biggest State-owned enterprise in Zhuhai, the tournament's TV and online audience was a combined 2.1 billion globally, while the local economy benefited with revenue from ticket sales, accommodation and tourism.

"The tournament helps present a new Zhuhai to the world and has been integrated in the regional development of this area," said Chen, vice-president of Huafa Modern Service.

Meanwhile, in response to the central government's call to enhance ties in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, Huafa Group also organized the inaugural Great Bay Area junior tennis tournament, which was staged on the sidelines of the main event.

Tennis clinics, pop concerts and a gourmet food fair, featuring typical Cantonese dishes, also added to the carnival vibe inside the 61,000-square-meter Hengqin Tennis Center.

It was an impressive effort, especially considering a typhoon caused serious damage to local infrastructure and the center's central court after sweeping through the region in August.

Working day and night to restore the damaged roof, stands and surface of the court, Huafa Group ensured the tournament began on time and without a hitch.

"It's another miracle made by Huafa and Zhuhai after building the center in eight months to prepare for the tournament's first edition in 2015," said Ji Ming, vice-president of Huafa Group's sports arm.

China's Peng Shuai, who competed in the singles through a wildcard entry, heaped praise on the organizers.

"We knew how much had been done within the two months and how hard it was," said world No 27 Peng.

"We just want to thank all the staff here that made it possible for us to have such a successful tournament.

"Because of their hard work, we have more and more knowledgeable fans who understand and appreciate tennis."

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