Signing off on a Zhu-high

By Sun Xiaochen in Zhuhai, Guangdong province (China Daily)

Updated: 2018-11-06

The WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai closed the curtain on the 2018 women's pro season in fine style on Sunday, with a festival atmosphere and the continuing ascent of Chinese ace Wang Qiang serving up a treat in the southern coastal city.

Wang fell just short of capping her excellent form on the tour's Asian swing, losing the sold-out singles final 6-3, 6-4 to Australia's Ashleigh Barty.

However, the Tianjin native's deep run against a classy field, featuring two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza and the rest of the world's No 9-20 players, was a huge bonus for fans and organizers.

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Wang Qiang, who finished runner-up at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Sunday, shows a youngster some fundamentals during a junior tennis clinic at the event last week. Provided to China Daily

Wang Qiang, who finished runner-up at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Sunday, shows a youngster some fundamentals during a junior tennis clinic at the event last week. Provided to China Daily

Wang was joined in the singles round-robin draw by compatriot Zhang Shuai, who entered through a wild card. It marked the first time the tournament featured two homegrown stars.

The WTA said it is keen to extend the tournament's stay in Zhuhai beyond the current five-year tenancy, which expires in 2019.

"The event has progressed well each and every year. We are very pleased that it has met and exceeded all our expectations. We'd like to see it continue here for many years to come," said WTA CEO Steve Simon.

"The conversation has already begun and our desire is to keep it here."

Players, meanwhile, said the warm reception from fans was a welcome lift at the end of a grueling campaign.

"I think they did a terrific job of supporting me throughout all the Chinese tournaments," German ace Julia Goerges said of her band of devoted fans.

Goerges, who won the tournament last year, celebrated her birthday on Friday at a party thrown by organizers.

"It makes for a good atmosphere. It's interesting and their support is so strong. I just feel great about the effort and love they put in it," said the 30-year-old, affectionately known as "Ge Ge" (meaning princess in Chinese) to fans.

A series of well-organized off-court promotional activities added to the festivities.

World No 12 Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus and Estonia's 20th-ranked Anett Kontaveit played beach tennis at Zhuhai's popular seaside tourist spot, while French star Caroline Garcia learned how to make Cantonese dim sum and attended a local concert.

"I leave with some very good impressions. I played here two years ago and a lot of improvements have been made," said Garcia.

"It was the first time for me seeing a French orchestra live while it was in Zhuhai. It was a great experience. I was really glad."

Muguruza also spoke of the tournament's burgeoning reputation.zhuhai2.jpg

"I heard from a bunch of players that it's very well prepared and organized in Zhuhai and the people are interested in the sport... and I agree," Muguruza said.

Getting to this point hasn't been easy, said tournament director Jose Miguel Garcia.

"The first year it was difficult to persuade players to come here because of the long travel," said the Spaniard.

"Now, after the first couple of years, they are talking about the tournament. They recognize its value and quality."

Zhuhai is using the event to boost its international profile as a tourist city in tandem with its efforts to establish itself as a tennis center.

According to the WTA's official tournament report, the 2017 edition reached an international TV audience of around 2.3 billion.

Last year it generated 630 million yuan ($92 million) directly via ticketing, merchandizing and tourism.

The efforts to promote tennis included the staging of the annual entry-level Zhuhai Open tournament in March, the Tennis in Community exhibition and a collegiate championship.

There were also plenty of fan-friendly events at Hengqin International Tennis Center, such as charitable tennis clinics, pop music performances and a gourmet show featuring typical Cantonese food.

In a bid to maximize interest from media and sponsors, the WTA announced last month that the Elite Trophy will switch weeks with the WTA Finals, which this year was staged in Singapore from Oct 21-28 but moves to Shenzhen next year.

"The tournament has been elevated to a new level in terms of international profile, player service and public influence in its fourth year," said Peter Lyu, executive director and general manager of State-owned organizer Huafa Sports.

"The success of the event has reinforced Zhuhai's efforts to forge a young and vibrant international image by hosting the sport of tennis."


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