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Australian Open banks on Asian rise



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January 30, 2012


AFP / Torsten Blackwood
2012 AFP -
The Australian Open is backing Asia to follow eastern Europe by producing future generations of tennis stars, helping tilt the sport's balance of power towards its key market.

The tournament, branded "The Grand Slam of Asia-Pacific", traded heavily on last year's success of French Open winner Li Na, with a 30 percent rise in ticket sales from its agents in China.

And Tennis Australia is hoping Asian players will one day become as prominent as the eastern Europeans, who are a mainstay of the women's and men's tours.

"Eastern Europeans about 15 years ago were probably not that high but if you look at the top 100 (women's) now they dominate it," said Asia-Pacific business development manager Dean Brostek.

"What's to say in 10 or 15 years it won't be like that on the Asian side? I think we'll see a significant re-balance, is my sense."

Brostek says Asian tennis is still in its infancy, but Tennis Australia is trying to spur interest in China in particular, by holding a coaches conference in Shanghai, and sending the Australian Open trophies on a tour of the country.

The body has also launched a Twitter-style "weibo" microblog account in a bid to connect with Chinese tennis fans.

"We've just started truly using social media," said Brostek.

"We've got a weibo page. I haven't seen the latest figures but we've got thousands and thousands of followers so this is a virtual community that I see getting bigger and bigger."

Li remains China's standard-bearer but Peng Shuai and Zheng Jie are also in the top 50. In sharp contrast, the highest-ranked Chinese man is Zhang Ze, 292nd in the world at the start of the Australian Open.

But Brostek and Brad Drewett, the new Australian head of the men's tour, both believe it's just a matter of time before China produces a male champion -- which would attract huge interest in the country.

"It's just sheer weight of numbers and the ultimate maturity in sports science, development and coaching," said Brostek, echoing earlier comments by Drewett.

"With the Chinese striving to want to be world-leading in everything I think it's just a matter of time.

"It might not be for a decade, it might even be longer but I think there's no doubt we'll see Chinese male champions in the future and what that does for the sport will take it to another level again."

Brostek says developed countries in the region such as Singapore and Japan are also being targeted as growth areas, with the long-term focus being on the likes of India and Indonesia.

And he gave assurances that the place of the Australian Open in the tennis calendar is secure, despite speculation China would like to hold a major tournament. The event's current contract runs out in 2036.

"There are four grand slams, they're locked in. It's mandated that way so we've heard that equally out of the likes of Spain, there's this desire to hold a fifth grand slam.

"I think what we do is make sure we stage a world-leading event that people look up to and aspire to be like, and that's what we'll continue to do."


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