Interest in tennis in China – be it extraordinary capital investment, surging participation rates and swelling audience numbers – has exploded over the past 20-odd years, and that’s a trend which spells potential for Tennis Australia.
Interest in the sport germinated with the debut of tennis as an Olympic sport at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and garnered much national pride at the Beijing Games in 2008. Interest crystallised with the star power of China’s pocket rocket top-ranked women’s player, Li Na.
When Li won the French Open in 2011 she was the first Asian-born player to ever win a tennis Grand Slam singles event. She made the cover of Time magazine’s 100 people of influence in 2013 before winning The Australian Open this year. (Li announced her retirement in September.)
The interest has seen an astronomical rise in local investment in the sport. The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) estimates that tens of thousands of tennis courts have been built during the past decade.
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Qizhong Forest Sports City Tennis Center in Shanghai and the National Tennis Center in Beijing each boast an audience capacity of 15,000 – a crowd size that matches centre court at Wimbledon and The Australian Open.
Up to 14 million Chinese now play regularly, including influential decision-makers in government, and those players also watch tennis.
The broadcast of The Australian Open reaches 100 million viewers in China, which is one-third of the total global audience of more than 300 million. And visitors from China are the fastest growing category of fans walking through the Melbourne gates each January.
For a nation that has long dominated world racquet sports – badminton and table tennis – tennis is a natural and now highly appealing extension.