Four-time champion Novak Djokovic is among the superstars expected to light up the Shanghai Masters when the prestigious ATP tournament returns to Qizhong Tennis Center with an expanded format next year. (China Daily)
With more stars to watch over a longer period of time, the upgrade of the Rolex Shanghai Masters has served up a major boost for China's pandemic-hit tennis sector.
Having been unable to be staged in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the prestigious tournament－one of nine top-tier 1000 events on the ATP Tour－is poised to make a strong return next year as it expands to a 12-day showpiece featuring 96 men in the singles main draw. The tournament has previously been contested over eight days with a field of 56.
The upgrade to become one of the "Super" Masters was announced last week as part of the ATP "One Vision" initiative, a long-term strategic plan designed to take tennis to new heights around the world from 2023. 'One Vision' will also see the Madrid and Rome Masters expanding to a 12-day format next year.
Currently, only two of the nine ATP Masters－the Sunshine Double at Indian Wells and Miami in the United States－feature 96-player fields.
Shanghai's upgrade speaks volumes for the event's prestige and quality over the years as well as the ATP's commitment to growing the sport in the region, according to the tournament's director, Michael Luevano.
"The role of the Shanghai Masters represents the largest population in the world. If you take into account Asia Pacific, we are the last truly unsaturated marketplace for tennis in the world," Luevano told China Daily in an online interview on Friday.
"I have the utmost respect for my colleagues at other Masters, but the average age of their attendees is much older than ours. We are a young audience. We are the future of who the ATP is trying to reach."
According to the ATP, the expansion is expected to deliver a 35 percent increase in Masters 1000 prize money through 2025. Additionally, a brand-new profit-sharing system based on the financial performance of each tournament has the potential to further benefit over 140 players.
Shanghai has earned a reputation as one of the best Masters hosts since becoming the first Chinese city to stage an ATP tournament in 1998.The city staged the first 1000 tourney in 2009, with its world-class facilities, enthusiastic fan engagement and cosmopolitan backdrop seeing the players vote it the ATP Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year from 2009-13.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has taken a toll on that momentum, forcing the cancellation of the Shanghai Masters in 2020 and 2021, with the feasibility of this fall's tournament still in doubt.
Despite the uncertainties going forward, Luevano promised that preparations for next year's upgraded version, should the pandemic situation allow, will not be compromised.
"The international sports community in China has really been hit very hard, but I can tell you that we have the full support of the ATP Tour, the Shanghai municipal government and our partners," said Luevano, who has been involved in the Shanghai event's operation since 1998 when the Masters was an entry-level 250 tournament.
"We will always be here and always be ready when the pandemic does pass and it will pass... time will solve everything.
"If that timing doesn't work out, then we'll push forward and prepare once again."
To accommodate a larger group of participants, Shanghai organizers have begun renovating the Qizhong Tennis Center in the city's western suburbs to expand the players' area with an emphasis on improving the gym and locker rooms.
More grassroots tennis promotions, fan-interaction activities and cultural events are also being planned for the extended tournament, which is expected to take place one week earlier than the current scheduling to cover China's annual National Day holidays.
"It cannot be just about more players, more matches. We have to supplement that programming with in-city activities," explained Luevano.
"One thing we are very excited about is to be in the national holiday the entire week. This is a critical component to the success of most tournaments of this scale."
However, with another ATP Tour 500 event, the China Open, traditionally taking place in Beijing during the "Golden Week" of the holidays, right before the Shanghai Masters' current one-week window, a potential overlapping of the two events in the first week of the upgraded Shanghai Masters needs to be addressed, said Luevano.
"First and foremost, the ATP Tour controls the calendar," he said. "There were extensive discussions with the China Open, and all tournaments in China, including the Chinese Tennis Association and the ATP, for many months because obviously they will be impacted.
"Yeah, a lot of people will be affected. But in order for the sport to grow as a whole, you have to put aside self-interest and do what's best for the sport. And that's what One Vision represents."