Masters a Shanghai calling card

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Roger Federer takes part in a promotional event during last year's Shanghai Masters. The defending champion will make his seventh appearance at the tournament in October.

The Shanghai Rolex Masters has a decade-long reputation as one of the premier events driving China's rise to international tennis prominence.

The only ATP 1000 tournament in Asia returns to the nation's largest city Oct 6-14 to entertain fans with a grand feast of elite competition while celebrating its 10th anniversary at the forefront of the ATP World Tour's annual Asian swing.

The tournament has traditionally attracted the world's biggest stars - including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic - for its 64-seed singles and 32-slot doubles main draws.

This year's prize pool totals $7.6 million, along with the singles winner's 1,000 ranking points.

A total of 99 matches - 55 in singles, 23 in doubles and 21 in qualifying - are played every year on the hardcourts at the Qizhong Tennis Center in Shanghai's western suburbs.

Established in 2009 to succeed the previous ATP year-end championships, the tournament has provided a big boost to the tennis boom in China while becoming a stepping stone for homegrown hopefuls to elevate their game against the world's best.

Past highlights include current national team coach Zeng Shaoxuan's shocking victory over world No 44 Dudi Sela of Israel in 2009, Wu Di's breakthrough to enter the second round after beating 19th seed Pablo Cuevas in 2016 and China's current No 1 Zhang Ze's doubles tandem with Swiss great Federer in 2013.

Federer, who will be making his seventh appearance at the tournament this year, attributes the steady progress of Chinese men to the event's influence.

"I think having big tournaments like the Shanghai Rolex Masters is going to strengthen the future of Asian tennis," the 20-time Grand Slam winner said after last year's tournament.

Tournament director Michael Luevano said it's only a matter of time until a Chinese man cracks the top echelon.

"It's been done with Yao Ming in basketball and Li Na in women's tennis," said Luevano. "You will see a tennis explosion, the most people playing tennis anywhere in the world."

In addition to nurturing homegrown talent with wildcard entries, the week-long Shanghai tournament pulls out all the stops in promoting tennis culture, local characteristics and the city's international image.

In 2009, French ace Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco of Spain played a mini game in the cabin of Shanghai's maglev train moving at a speed of more than 430 km/h. Ahead of the 2011 tournament, British star Andy Murray unveiled a terracotta statue of himself before swinging off his title-defending campaign.

The growing appreciation of professional tennis among Shanghai residents was highlighted in 2014 when a record number of 152,000 spectators visited the tournament won by fan favorite Federer for the first time. The 38th clash between Federer and Nadal in last year's final won by the Swiss was the hottest ticket in town as fans swarmed into the 15,000-seat central court hours before the match.

"What impresses me most is how passionate Chinese fans are," said Luevano.

"Every year I see fans camped out at the players' hotels and waiting at the airport to see their favorites. The passion and loyalty is phenomenal in Shanghai."

With its glittering player cast, cutting-edge facilities and intense fan support already at its all-time high, the tournament still sees potential for moving forward.

"We want to be the all-time best tennis tournament in Asia in the next 10 years," Jiang Lan, vice-president of Shanghai Jiushi Co Ltd, the tournament organizer.

"The prestige of this event over the last decade has been maintained by its own class as an ATP 1000 tournament while we always look forward to continue building upon our success to take the tournament to the next level."

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