Peter Johnston Photo: Li Hao/GT
WTA Managing Director for the Asia Pacific Peter Johnston is predicting that this year's China Open will be "amazing" because many star players will play at the National Tennis Center in Beijing.
Current world No.1 Serena Williams, who missed the China Open in 2012 due to illness, will join the 10th edition of the China Open together with sister Venus Williams. Belarusian- Victoria Azarenka will also come to defend her title. With home favorite Li Na and the Guangzhou- Open title holder Zhang Shuai, as well as Peng Shuai, who won her first ladies' double championship at Wimbledon- in July with Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei, Chinese fans now have several homegrown players to follow in the competition.
On the men's side, world No.1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia will come to defend his title but world No.2 Rafael Nadal of Spain will challenge him. Former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt will also play in Beijing as a wild card player.
Maria Shara-pova is one exception among the top WTA players who are joining this year's China Open, as she hasn't recovered from a shoulder injury which resulted in her withdrawal from this year's last Grand Slam, the US Open.
"You will always get problems with injuries … you can lose players in the men's and women's events, but it's the event itself, the number of unbelievable- players they have, and the way they position- the event means it's going to be just hugely successful- this year," Johnston- told the Global Times in an interview in Beijing.
"The experience for the fans is going to be the best it's been. All the sponsors, the venue, are all activating very well with things that make it a GREat experience to go. I think the TV presentation will be the world's best ... The showcase for the China Open will be its best-ever, and I think the player field is so exciting."
2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of the WTA as the women's tennis governing body held a celebration during the Wimbledon Championships this year, with former WTA world champions joining the ceremony.
"Our whole year has been a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the WTA," Johnston said.
"The growth in 40 years has been amazing. In 1973 there was only $1 million total prize money, now in 2013 there is $118 million in prize money.
"We have many celebrations throughout the year … throughout China we are doing WTA tennis festivals which are in big shopping malls like in Guangzhou … Ningbo, then in Beijing. It's all a celebration of 40 love and our heritage of where we began and where we are today," he said.
Being one of the four WTA Premier Mandatory tournaments with prize money of $4.5 million-, comparable only to a Tier II event of the WTA Tour in 2004, the China Open has become the biggest combined event in the Asia Pacific out of the four Grand Slams, with the National Tennis Stadium, nicknamed the Diamond Court, with a capacity of 15,000 seats, as the new center court. The competition will also spill over into the Lotus Court, with 10,000 seats, and the Moon Court, with 4,000.
"When the WTA revamped the Tour through the roadmap initiative we were seeking to place our biggest events in iconic world cities that were committed to get behind the event and share our vision for future growth," Johnston said.
"China and the Asia Pacific were certainly target areas for our future and we could not be happier- with how Beijing has embraced- the event and enabled it to become a flagship event for WTA in the region and globally," Johnston said.
When the WTA opened an office in Beijing in 2008, only two events were held in China. But this year, the number increased to six. Besides China Open, there are three WTA 125K series events in Suzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing, as well as two WTA International- tournaments in Shenzhen- and Guangzhou.
Next year will see two more events: the Wuhan Open, a $2.5 million event which replaces the Tokyo Open, and the Hong Kong Open, a WTA international- event.
"When we are bringing events [to China], tennis is still quite new ... Sometimes it's an education and understanding for the public,
"The part actually I enjoy most in the job, is you are bringing a new, almost a new product to a city like Wuhan. It's exciting because it's all new and so you can develop," -Johnston said.
"These new facilities are so good because they're not old. They are being- developed with the latest technology and the latest user-friendly facilities," he noted.
"It's the challenge but the opportunity is that tennis is fresh and new in China."
Zhang, 24, won her first trophy at Guangzhou Open on September 21, becoming the fifth Chinese female tennis player to win a WTA title after Li, Zheng Jie, Yan Zi and Sun Tiantian.
Zhang's success has given rise to the comment that "flying alone" is the best way for Chinese players after she broke free from the State-run training system. But Johnston doesn't aGREe, as he thinks each tennis player should find the method that is best for them.
Johnston also expressed his admiration- of Zhang's performance during the Guangzhou Open.
"She has more self belief and she is looking- so fit and confident," he said. "[Her win] proves the depth of Chinese- women tennis players ... She is another sign that the future is bright for Chinese women's tennis."
Zhang will play at the China Open as a wild card player.