Junior Masters to fuel support to China's tennis

Updated: 2014-04-17 20:25

By Guan Xiaomeng (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Sun Jinfang, chief of Chinese Tennis Association (CTA), said she pins high hope on China's young generation of tennis players on international courts, as the country is still lagging behind in the sport - despite Li Na's historic triumphs in recent years.

"Statistics from CCTV (China Central Television) showed Li Na's games had been ever receiving higher ratings than any other sport participated in by Chinese athletes," the country's tennis boss said. "For this reason I believe a top-tier tournament for juniors will be drawing more attention and support to this sport, especially to young players," Sun said during a press conference on Thursday to announce the first ITF (International Tennis Federation) Junior Masters will land in China's southwest economic hub, Chengdu, March 30 to April 4, 2015.

The tournament will be the year-ending finals for juniors under 18, with the top eight ranked players of both genders participating, according to Wan Jianbin, deputy director of the association's Competition Department, on a par with the ATP finals and WTA finals.

Under the contract between CTA and ITF, the junior tournament hosting is at intervals of three years and Chengdu's lasts to 2017. After each of the intervals, China has the priority to extend the contract.

Chengdu, home to China's first grand slams doubles champions Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, has 400,000 tennis players and more than 100 tennis clubs. The city, also home to giant pandas, has hosted international tournaments, including ATP tours and U18 tours.

China has been making a splash on international courts in recent years, with grand slams top finishes and high world rankings. French Open and Australian Open champion Li Na is now the world's No. 2 player, with Zhang Shuai as 41th and Peng Shuai 44th.

Unlike female players, who have achieved all that with much thanks to the "fly-away" program (the Chinese tennis officials allowed national players to leave the state-run support system and become self-managed at the end of 2008), China's men's players are trained under the state sport system and have been lagging far behind on international courts.

Responding to whether some of the male players would be allowed to follow suit in the near future, Sun said she can't afford it now and needs more support financially and systematically.

"I am here asking for more social support," she said. "The junior tournament may be a good beginning to draw more attention and thus support."

China now has no top eight-ranked U18 players and ITF awarded the host priority to substitute if the qualified players quit due to irresistible reasons.