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Wuhan welcomes women's elite
source: China Daily     2017-09-22

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From left: World No 1 and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, No 2-ranked Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova, ranked fourth, will all grace the Wuhan Open, which begins with qualification rounds on Friday and concludes on Sept 30 in Wuhan, Hubei province. [Provided To China Daily] 

The cream of women's tennis will descend on Wuhan this weekend as the central Chinese city furthers its claim as a burgeoning global center for the sport.

The fourth edition of the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open has assembled a star-studded cast, including this year's Wimbledon winner and current world No 1 Garbine Muguruza, reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber, world No 2 Simona Halep and former world No 1 Karolina Pliskova.

In all, 17 of the world's top-20 players will compete at the $2.6 million WTA Premier 5 tournament, which takes place from Sept 22-30.

Two-time champion Petra Kvitova, who lifted the trophy in 2014 and 2016, can expect a special welcome as she returns to defend her title.

The 27-year-old Czech was stabbed during a robbery at her home last December and only returned to competition at this summer's French Open.

"Wuhan is one of my favorite tournaments and I've played some of my best tennis there," Kvitova said.

"I feel a very special bond with everyone there and with all the fans in China. I'm so excited about returning to defend my title."

Former runner-up Muguruza, who lost the 2015 Wuhan final to Venus Williams, is equally psyched about her return to the Hubei province event.

"I'm very excited to come back to Wuhan and play in front of the Chinese fans again. They're always so much fun to play for, because as players we can really feel their enthusiasm," said the 23-year-old Spaniard.

"I've played well in Wuhan in the past and it's a tournament I always love to play."

Along with the China Open and Shanghai Masters, the Wuhan Open is one of the top tournaments in China and, with 900 ranking points awarded to the champion, is one of the most enticing on the WTA tour.

"We have brought some of the best female athletes in the world to Wuhan as part of our plan to grow this event into one of the best-known tournaments in the world," said co-tournament director Zhou Jianbin.

"It's a wonderful opportunity to showcase the city of Wuhan as a focus for international sports, as well as a chance to see women's tennis at its very best."

Wuhan's rise to prominence on the tour would not have been possible without the achievements of one of the city's most famous daughters, Li Na.

Now retired from playing but a global ambassador for the tournament, Li became Asia's first and only Grand Slam singles champion by winning the 2011 French Open, later adding a second major at the 2014 Australian Open.

She achieved a career-high world ranking of No 2 in February 2014 and has seven WTA titles to her name.

"Li Na has made tennis so popular in China," said co-tournament director Fabrice Chouquet.

"It really has taken the game to the next level - at the level of basketball and national sports such as badminton and table tennis."

Li's feats ignited a new era for Chinese tennis, with around 116 million television viewers in the country tuning in to witness the moment she beat Italy's Francesca Schiavone to gain her first Grand Slam title at Roland Garros six years ago.

Naturally, many kids across the country have been inspired to pick up a racket since, especially in Wuhan.

"It's so good to see so many children enjoying tennis in my hometown," Li said during a community event in Wuhan last Thursday.

"Wuhan is building a solid foundation for tennis and everyone is working hard to make Wuhan 'a city of tennis'.

"You have to start with young children to get them excited about about the game, so that it can be more and more popular."

Sport is now Wuhan's calling card, while the city, boasting a population of 10 million, is also becoming an economic powerhouse thanks to its fast-growing automotive industry.

The city has invested millions of dollars in tennis, with the Wuhan Open's home, Optics Valley International Tennis Center, boasting world-class facilities.

The center's main stadium seats 15,000 spectators, with Court 1 accommodating 5,000, while action will also take place on a number of other outdoor hard courts.

"I want to welcome tennis fans to the Wuhan Open to enjoy top-level sport and a wonderful family atmosphere," said Li.

"It's one of the most prestigious tournaments on the WTA tour, a Premier 5 event, but it is also going to be a great tennis party for everyone."

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