| Srichaphan: Equals Vijay Amritraj’s feat
Shanghai: Tennis is set to boom in Asia on the back of Thai sensation Paradorn Srichapan and a surging interest in China, the sport’s leaders said on Wednesday as Shanghai hosted the big-ticket Masters Cup.
ATP chief executive Mark Miles said Srichaphan’s spectacular climb up the world rankings this year had dramatically helped an already growing enthusiasm among Asians for tennis.
“The phenomenon obviously in the past year has been Paradorn,” Miles said.
“He has the potential to be the next superstar in this part of the world. We have a promotional plan for him. We really think his success has to be a banner for the game to help spread the popularity of the sport further.”
Srichaphan has become one of Asia’s most high-profile sportsmen after surging from 126 in January to finish the year ranked 16, claiming the scalps of the world’s top two players, Lleyton Hewitt and Andre Agassi, along the way.
But Miles and the sport’s other heavyweights meeting on the sidelines of the Masters Cup said Paradorn was just one reason for their growing optimism about Asian tennis.
Miles cited a recent sponsor’s survey that showed tennis was the number one “aspirational” sport among China’s billion-plus population.
“This means among all the sports in China, tennis is the one that the young people see as maybe being out of reach at the moment but something they can have a future in,” he said.
“We believe the sport will really grow in this country.”
Asian Tennis Federation (ATF) vice-president Herman Hu endorsed Miles’ comments, saying there were more than one million children in China playing mini-tennis and a Chinese equivalent of Srichaphan would one day emerge.
“It’s just a matter of time,” he said. “It’s a natural evolution. With the more people interested in tennis the results will come.”
The season-ending Masters Cup, where the top eight players compete in the year’s most elite field for a prize pool of $3.7 million, is also being seen as a springboard for realising the potential in China.
“This is the biggest international professional sporting event to be held in terms of prize money, ticket sales and television exposure,” Miles said.
Interest in the tournament has been strong, with more than 8,200 people filling the 9,500-capacity stadium at Shanghai’s new International Expo Centre for Tuesday’s first day of play.
The tournament has also been broadcast live throughout China.
Hu said the ATF had monitored a surging interest in the sport across the whole region, not just China.
“Asian tennis is growing very fast, perhaps (we now have) in the order of tens of millions of players,” he said.
The Australian Open chief executive Paul McNamee, also attended the meeting of the sports’ leaders here and said his Grand Slam was increasingly positioned towards the Asia-Pacific region.
He said 48 per cent of the Australian Open’s international television audience was in Asia, making it the tournament’s biggest market.
McNamee said Vietnam and Indonesia took a broadcast of this year’s tournament for the first time and South Korea had recently signed on, also for the first time, for the January 2003 event.
The upcoming Australian Open has also been rebranded with the slogan: “Grand Slam of the Asia Pacific”, as part of a move to integrate more closely with the region.
He said the Australian Open’s embracing of Asia began in earnest in 1996 with the start of wildcards for Asia’s top male and female players.
Asian players have also been invited to train with Australia’s best players at Melbourne Park in the lead-up to the Australian Open.
But, as Pat Cash sparked a revival in Australian tennis with his 1987 Wimbledon victory, all Asian eyes are on Paradorn.
At 16 in the rankings, Paradorn has joined Indian great Vijay Amritraj as the highest-ranked Asian player in history and is set to climb higher in 2003.
McNamee pointed out that the player to have captured the hearts of most Asians over the past year was Michael Chang, an American of Chinese descent.