Sports / China

Junior Masters to serve up support for China's tennis

By Guan Xiaomeng ( Updated: 2014-04-17 20:25

Sun Jinfang, chief of the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA), is pinning high hopes on China's younger generation of players as the country continues to lag behind in the sport - despite Li Na's historic triumphs.

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

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

Under the terms of the contract between the CTA and ITF, hosting of the junior tournament will run in three year cycles.

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

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

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

Asked whether some of the male players would be allowed to "fly-away" in 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 currently has no top eight-ranked U18 players and the ITF has granted the hosts permission to use substitutes if qualified players are unavailable.

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