Boasting proximity to Hong Kong and Macao, new tennis hub Zhuhai in Guangdong province looks set to enhance cross-city tennis exchanges through grassroots promotions.
With the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai just around the corner, the excitement of getting involved in the year-end finale of the Women's Tennis Association Tour has spread through the coastal region.
Jointly organized by State-owned enterprise Zhuhai Huafa Group and sports marketing company APG, the six-day tournament, which opens on Oct 31, will feature the world's top 20 female players in singles and doubles competing for the winner's 700 ranking points and a share of .28 million total prize money
An eight-city ball kid tryout program has underlined the tournament organizers' commitment to expand the influence of the event to nurture tennis culture in the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao coastal region.
"By bringing our ball kid selection to more places, the overall public perception of tennis in this area has seen an impressive improvement," said Ji Ming, vice-general manager of Huafa Sports.
Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macao and Taipei were among the cities that saw more than 700 youngsters participate in the August preliminary stage.
From that group, 42 kids were selected to attend a two-week summer camp where they received training in agility, ball handling and video analysis. Thirty of them, including nine from Hong Kong, Macao and Taipei, earned certificates to serve in the tournament and will arrive at the Hengqin Tennis Center on Thursday for a final on-site clinic.
Jerry Li, a 13-year-old Macao native who attended the past two Zhuhai tournaments as a spectator, said he was excited to be involved from a closer perspective this time around.
"I feel really lucky to be part of the tournament. To be able to serve at such a high-profile event is definitely going to be a lifetime experience for me," he said.
Zhuhai is one bridge away from Macao and is connected to Hong Kong by a 70-minute ferry ride. The completion of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, scheduled for the end of this year, is expected to help boost fan support.
"As part of the tournament, the ball kid tryouts help connect grassroots passion for the sport in different cities," said Ji. "It also helps promote culture exchanges among cities in the region while building upon the tennis culture forged around the tournament in Zhuhai."
Meanwhile, organizers have brought tennis training clinics to 20 local primary and secondary schools while hosting four university squads to compete in a collegiate tournament leading up to this year's event.
Riding the momentum of the Elite Trophy, the inaugural Great Bay Area Junior Tennis Team Tournament will be held on the sideline of the main event on Nov 4-5 in response to the government's call to enhance cultural coherence in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.
The bay area project, involving nine cities in Guangdong province alongside Hong Kong and Macao, is a regional cooperation initiative proposed by the country's top leadership in March.
The junior tournament will involve 128 under-16 players from the region, as well as teams from as far away as San Francisco and Tokyo. A sports industry forum examining "tennis and city development in the Great Bay Area" will be held after the tournament.
Apart from world-class action on the court, tennis enthusiasts will also be treated to a feast off the court with the upgrade version of the Zhuhai Food Festival to be held at the tennis center during the tournament.
Boasting the taste of Zhuhai, the culinary extravaganza will feature typical Guangdong-style delicacies served by 10 renowned local restaurants and chefs to visitors, adding to the tournament's festival atmosphere.