• Li Na's hometown aiming to become Chinese tennis capital
  • Wuhan tripling size of its main stadium to 15,000 seats
The Wuhan Open is building a 1 billion renminbi ($161 million) stadium that will rival the size of Wimbledon’s Centre Court.

“We hope we can build Wuhan into a city of tennis,” Zhu Jianbin, president of the Wuhan Sports Development Investment Co. said in an interview at Roland Garros yesterday.

Although only in its second year, the Wuhan Open is tripling the size of its main 5,000-seat stadium. The event is the first international top-level sports competition held in the capital of Hubei province, which has 10 million inhabitants. Wuhan, the hometown of China’s first Grand Slam singles champion Li Na, also recently opened the country’s first college of professional tennis.

Modeled after the multi-use Melbourne Park venue, home of the Australian Open, the new Wuhan stadium will have a retractable roof, 25 corporate hospitality suites as well as increased space for players, media and tournament organizers. It will also be used as a concert venue and host other sports events such as basketball and soccer. The new facilities will be ready on time for the Sept. 27-Oct. 3 event. 

The new stadium will be able to accommodate as many tennis fans as Wimbledon’s Centre Court. Rod Laver Arena, the main stadium at the Australian Open, has room for 14,300 tennis fans, while the French Open’s main Court Philippe Chatrier has seating for 14,820 spectators. The U.S. Open’s Arthur Ashe Stadium remains the biggest court in the sport, with 23,000 seats.

Zhu said he’s traveled to Paris with a delegation that includes two stadium investors to study business practices at the French Open, which started at Roland Garros yesterday. 

“We come here for learning,” Zhu said. “To learn from the French Open business operations, learn from tennis culture, and learn from successful practice,” he said.

Wuhan has strong links with France, partly because car maker Peugeot has a factory there. Earlier in the day, Zhu had his photo taken with four ball kids from Wuhan, who are visiting Roland Garros as part of an exchange with the French Tennis Federation. 

Best known as the hometown of the now retired French Open and Australian Open winner Li Na, the central Chinese city is using the tournament as a showcase. Its inaugural event held last year was dealt a blow when Li retired the week before the start. The tournament, which had attracted 19 of the top 20 women tennis players, was won by Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic. Li made an appearance on the main court to say goodbye to fans.

“Everyone loves Li Na,” Zhu said. “It was a pity Li Na retired, but this is the natural law for professional tennis players.”

He added the 33-year-old Li, who is expecting her first child this summer, will be endorsing the event as an ambassador. 

The women’s tour is now hosting 10 events in China -- including the China Open in Beijing -- up from two in 2008. Since then, tennis participation in China has more than doubled, partly driven by Li’s popularity.

Last year, the Wuhan Open attracted almost 3000 hours of national and international television coverage and 75,000 spectators.


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