The Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, which concluded on Sunday, not only showcased the next wave of female tennis stars, but also demonstrated host city Zhuhai's potential to become a global seaside recreation and tourism destination.
Held at the Hengqin International Tennis Center, the six-day event welcomed 11 players ranked ninth through 19th in the world rankings, plus one wildcard. German tennis legend Steffi Graf was the ambassador for the event.
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus claimed the winner's trophy. Jointly organized by the Chinese Tennis Association and Zhuhai municipal government, the event offered a prize pool of $2.42 million and 700 ranking points for the singles champion.
According to Jorge Salkeld, senior vice-president at Octagon Tennis and a former WTA board member, the event with television coverage in more than 50 countries and regions, is a window for people from around the world to look into Zhuhai and learn more about the city's developments.
"My family watched it in the United States. They say, 'hey, we saw the Zhuhai matches'," Salkeld said. "That's one of the reasons that Zhuhai has decided to invest in the facilities and tennis tournament, because they know that these events are showcasing not only tennis but the facilities of Zhuhai.
"I think it's a really big plus in this vision to connect Hong Kong, Macao and Zhuhai," Salkeld added, referring to the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, which opened to traffic in October 2018 and turns Zhuhai into the only city on the Chinese mainland with bridge links to both Hong Kong and Macao.
The 55-kilometer mega project connects the three Chinese cities in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and cuts the once-arduous hours-long journey from Hong Kong to Zhuhai to just a 45-minute bus ride.
Jose Miguel Garcia, tournament director of the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, who has overseen the event in Zhuhai since 2017, echoed Salkeld's opinion.
He said that Zhuhai has excellent facilities for the tennis event, adding, "Every year the players who are qualified for the tournament express that they feel very comfortable when they are in Zhuhai.
"The promotion of the cities through events, especially sports, has proved to be a success over the last two decades," he said. "The WTA Elite Trophy has helped increase the awareness of Zhuhai in the world."
Garcia said Zhuhai is on the right path to building interest in tennis, and is investing in the development of the sport at both professional and amateur levels.
Hosting sports events is part of the city's strategy to grow into an international seaside recreation and tourism destination in the foreseeable future to support the Bay Area as "a quality living circle for living, working and traveling".
Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus claims victory at the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai on Sunday.
Sporting events on the one hand help to build up local people's interest in sports and hence the vitality of the city, on the other, they offer must-see programs for tourists, especially sports fans, explained Wu Xiangming, deputy director of the Zhuhai culture, radio, TV, tourism and sports administration, during a recent news conference.
"Sporting events are expected to give impetus to the city's endeavor to become an international seaside recreation and tourism destination by 2025," he said.
Apart from tennis events, the city hosted a Bay Area sailing championship in September and will organize an urban bike challenge in November. For the same purpose, Zhuhai has organized and will continue to hold cultural events, the official said.
The city has held a citizens' art festival, the third Zhuhai International Mozart Competition for Young Musicians and the Zhuhai Beach Musical Festival among this year's events, and will host the sixth China International Circus Festival in November.
The biennial Airshow China, one of the world's top air shows, is set to next be held in November 2020, and is expected to be an even bigger draw card.
A tourism development plan the city issued in 2017 detailed four major categories - sightseeing and touring, convention and exhibition, recreation and holiday, as well as special festivals and events - to achieve its goal.
Zhuhai's Hengqin New Area received the green light to become an international recreation and tourism island from the National Development and Reform Commission.
The recreation and tourism sector is expected to become a pillar industry of Hengqin with the added value of the tertiary industry accounting for at least 75 percent of its total GDP in 2020, while an international island traveling destination is expected to take shape there by 2020, according to the international recreation and tourism island construction plan for Hengqin, issued by the National Development and Reform Commission in April.
The city this year has also hammered out a couple of regulations for keeping the tourism industry and the development of tourism resources, particularly ocean resources, right on track.
According to Zhuhai's latest development plan for tourism released in August, the city is expecting 50 million visits to its scenic spots annually in 2020 and 75 million by 2025.