January is usually abuzz in Australia with impassioned tennis fans gearing themselves up for the adrenalin pumping Australian Open slated to be on the 18th – 31st January in this year of the Fire Monkey. Melbourne city, a UNESCO listed City of Literature, is akin to a chameleon as she morphs into various personas throughout the year be it in the arts, literature, gastronomy, visual arts and sports. Melbourne Park undergoes a quick metamorphosis as her grounds would be welcoming throngs of tennis enthusiasts from far and wide. Even hotels and the uber eclectic Airbnb accommodations are opening their doors wide in anticipation of this mass exodus from the sporting realm. This year marks the 104th edition of the Australian Open and the first Grand Slam tournament of the year.
China is seeing the rise of this tennis fever in the Motherland. It is receiving much private and public support as this form of sport is seen to bond families together, in line with her 2,000 years old of Confucianism virtues. Middle-class families are embracing tennis as it is regarded to elevate one's social status even. According to statistics, tennis is now the third-most popular sport on television in China, just slightly behind Association football and basketball.
Imagine this, China has 30,000 tennis courts and approximately 14 million people in China regularly play tennis, up from 1 million when the sport returned to the Olympics in 1988, according to the WTA Tour. The Chinese government aims to increase that by 15 percent every year. On top of that, observers think that the nation's tennis market has reached $4 billion annually. That's a whopping amount!
The women's tour was recently upgraded in the China Open held in Beijing to become the only combined event with the men's tour in Asia. Played at the Beijing Olympic Tennis Center with combined prize money of $6.6 million and a main stadium that holds 10,000 spectators, the China Open is now one of the WTA's top four tournaments. The ATP's other flagship tournament is the $3.24 million Shanghai Masters in Asia.
Overall there are four fundamental reasons that have contributed to the exponential growth of tennis in China. Firstly, the national economy has improved enormously and the booming middle class sees tennis as a family sport. Secondly, there has been the emergence of higher ranked players from other parts of Asia such as Japan, India, Thailand and Indonesia all of whom spur competition and higher standards of play. Thirdly, the investment of the International Tennis Federation and the Chinese Tennis Association in the development of the grass-roots game was a game-changing catalyst. And finally the Beijing Olympics acted as a global platform in raising the profile of sports in China.
Tennis is a global game where anyone can play, spectate or comment on. A common meeting ground where creed, nationality and religion are set aside. What unites people all over the world to tennis is their joined passion for sportsmanship, thrill of the game, celebrating talents and rejoicing with the eventual victors and encouraging the non-winners.
Tennis champions from Li Na of China to Jake Delaney and Marc Polmans from Australia is living proof that the spirit of sportsmanship is alive in Australia and China. May we all continue to swing for our own stars!
No pain, no gain
chī dé kǔ zhōng kǔ, fāng wéi rén shàng rén
Author: Jasemin Sibo.
Leading Image: Wikimedia.