ATP chairman looks to grassroots players
Association of Tennis Professionals chairman Andrea Gaudenzi is in town this week for the Rolex Shanghai Masters, which is running through October 15.
This is the Italian's second visit to Shanghai. His last visit dates back to 2000 when Gaudenzi was still a player. He lost a tough first round match to Magnus Norman during the Heineken Open.
"I was really impressed coming back here 23 years later," he said. "First of all, with the development of the city. Also, the new stadium is something which is completely different from what I experienced in 2000. So there has been a massive improvement in infrastructure."
"It's obviously been a very difficult three years for Shanghai, I mean, for the entire world, but specifically for Shanghai," he said. "I think the new comeback is very positive, not only because we upgraded the tournament, but also because the Chinese players are a lot stronger today."
Chinese tennis players have made breakthroughs during this year's Masters.
Shanghai native Zhang Zhizhen clinched his maiden victory at the Shanghai tournament, and then became the first Chinese player to achieve back-to-back victories here when he came from behind to defeat Tomas Martin Etcheverry in the second-round match earlier this week to reach the last 32.
The world's 60th ranked Zhang is taking on American player Brandon Nakashima on Sunday evening.
"I think it would be ideal if you had a few players in the top 100, maybe a few players in the top 20 and top 10," Gaudenzi said. "It would obviously be a dream, because I think then the entire Chinese population would be backing the sport.
"I mean, we are a bit similar in Italy. We are a fan of the sport generally, but when we have somebody over-performing like we had in MotoGP or skiing, the attention of the entire population drives it to a different level because we all want to see our own people strive in the sport."
Gaudenzi said ATP plans to work with local tennis federations in China to improve the numbers of smaller tournaments and challengers, so as to help raise more players.
"If you look at the success of the Italian players in the last few years," he said, "beginning with Fognini and then Sinner and Berrettini. A lot of it comes from having lots of challengers in our home country, because the most difficult step is converting from juniors to professional, and you need a lot of local tournaments to be able to compare yourself to that level.
"It's a combination. While introducing premium events like the Rolex Shanghai Masters, we also work on the grassroots, because ultimately that's how you engage the fans."
Shanghai is among the three Tour events that ATP has upgraded this year. The other two are Madrid and Rome Masters.
Talking about the increased length of the tournaments, Gaudenzi believes that players can adjust.
"Yes, it is longer, but it is longer for the players who actually get to the end of the tournaments," he said. "But what I really believe is important is now players can have a day off in between matches, and that in the long term, I think decreases the chances of injuries.
"I think having 96 draws played over 12 days is a lot better than having to play six matches in seven days back-to-back because this is really where the injuries come up. So time will tell, but we're very confident it will work out."