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China Open attracts tennis' big hitters
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Fernando Gonzalez and Agnez Szavay are set to defend their China Open titles in Beijing just one month after the spectacular Olympic Games.

Since the Open won the rights to host a nine-day Women's Tennis Association (WTA) event in 2009 -Beijing's biggest tennis event - earlier this year, some big names have thrown their hats in the ring for this year's tournament.

Andy Roddick, David Ferrer, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic are among the top stars to play at the tournament which begins on Saturday, Sept 20.

World 33 Li Na, who made it to the quarterfinals at the Olympics last month, and Australian and Wimbledon Open double's title winner Zheng Jie will give local tennis fans even more to cheer about.

"Playing on home soil is always a very special feeling for Chinese players," Li said. "The China Open is where we all started. I remember the first time I was given a wildcard to play in Beijing four years ago.

"It is a very special tournament for me."

Chinese players wrapped up a good Olympics, with Zheng and Yan Zi taking a bronze medal.

Beijing outbid Dubai, Tokyo and Bangkok to become one of just four cities to host elite events on the top-level WTA calendar in two years' time.

Other mandatory women's stops will be in Madrid, Miami and Indian Wells, California, that year.

A streamlined WTA calendar will include stops in Tokyo, Sydney, Doha and Dubai, after the WTA established an office in Beijing this year to help with marketing and promotions.

The WTA and Beijing will also explore linking the ATP Shanghai Masters Series to create a combined ATP-WTA event that would rotate annually between China's two major cities.

Prize money for both men and women will jump 30 percent to $7.2 million, with a minimum of $4 million at each of the elite four events.

WTA has opened its office in Beijing in July and is spearheaded by the WTA Tour's chief operating officer David Shoemaker. It is professional women's tennis' third global office after its main headquarters in St Petersburg, Florida, and its European office in London

The Beijing sports authority has announced a 500 million yuan ($62.5 million) post-Olympic budget to host international sports tournaments, with the WTA event top of the list.

Off the court, WTA teamed up with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) last year to help raise the status of women.

Shoemaker said he hoped the China Open would spur social change among women in China.

"The fact our top players play here sends a very strong and powerful signal about the progressiveness of some of those places that I think is inspiring social change," Shoemaker said.

The past four Opens have attracted top players, including Marat Safin, Nikolay Davydenko and Lindsay Davenport.

(China Daily September 17, 2008)

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