Wuhan delivers boost to China's tennis growth
The Wuhan Open is set to feature a strong line-up of local players after Zhang Shuai and Peng Shuai were both given wildcards into the strong 56-player main draw.
In addition, three other Chinese players, Duan Yingying, Zhang Kailin and Wang Yafan have all been granted wildcards into the 32-player qualifying draw.
Giving wildcards to home players is customary at WTA Tournaments but given the Wuhan Open's status as a top tier WTA Tour event with a total prize purse of $2,589,000, these wildcards represent a golden opportunity for Chinese players.
The Optics Valley International Tennis Center will host the tournament, which will run from Sept 23 to Oct 1.
The tournament has attracted some of the biggest names in world tennis, including new world No 1 and US Open champion Angelique Kerber, 22-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams and former Wuhan Open champions Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams.
Caroline Wozniacki received the wildcard only available to WTA Top 20 players, while former Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki was the only other international player granted a wildcard.
The tournament is committed to helping tennis grow regionally and nationally in China. During the tournament, spectators will also be able to spend time in between matches taking part in a range of fun tennis activities, including playing mini-tennis, testing their serving prowess under the gaze of the radar speed gun and meeting some of the biggest names competing in the WTA Premier event.
Wuhan also hosts a $50,000 ITF Pro Circuit event in July each year, which offers lower-ranked Chinese and international players the chance to compete on the venue's main show courts. The winner this year was China's Wang Qiang.
There are also a number of initiatives for recreational players run around the tournament in Wuhan, including the City Club League (involving nearly 3,000 players from 20 cities) and the College League (1,000 players from eight universities).
More than 5,000 applicants from 12 provinces and municipalities across China applied to be volunteers at the major international sporting event. Over 800, all college students, were selected and will gain invaluable work experience at the event.
Wuhan is the home town of Chinese tennis legend Li Na, who made Chinese tennis history by winning two Grand Slam singles titles at Roland Garros (2011) and the Australian Open (2014) before her retirement in September 2014. She is now the global ambassador for the Wuhan Open.
"We have a lot of children that like to play tennis in my home town and I think it's very good that they get to see the top players face-to-face at the Wuhan Open and to watch them play," Li said in an earlier comment.
Tournament co-director Zhu Jianbin said: "We want tennis to grow on the back of the Wuhan Open, both by rewarding our best Chinese players with wildcards into the main draw and into qualifying, but also by giving people of all ages and abilities the chance to play. The Wuhan Open is about providing the inspiration and opportunity for people in China to play tennis."