The China Open is one of the most prestigious Asian tennis tournaments of the year. Part of the ATP 500 and WTA Mandatory series, it has been a combined event since 2004, and an extremely popular one with fans in the region.
Beijing first hosted a major men’s tournament in 1993, and the event remained in the Chinese capital for the next four years before taking a six-year hiatus. It returned in 2004, revamped, restyled and combined with the WTA Tour. In the run-up to China’s hosting of the Olympic Games in 2008, the China Open became a focal point for tennis in Asia.
In 2009, the tournament underwent another upgrade, making it the biggest women’s event in Asia and arguably the second biggest (after Shanghai) for the men. In recent years, over a quarter of a million spectators have attended the China Open annually, and with millions of dollars in prize money on offer, it has become a much sought-after title for the top players.
Originally held at the Beijing Tennis Center, the tournament relocated to the National Tennis Center in 2009, the venue used at the Olympics. Featuring 11 courts and a state-of-the-art air-conditioning system that minimises pollution, the arena also boasts a main stadium with a retractable roof and a seating capacity of 15,000.
The early years of the China Open were dominated by Michael Chang, who won three titles in a row from 1993 - 1995. Britain’s Greg Rusedski won in Beijing in 1996, and Jim Courier was victorious the following year.
Marat Safin won the China Open when it returned to the men’s tour in 2004, and Rafael Nadal’s triumph in 2005 marked only the second hard court title of his career. In 2010, Novak Djokovic became the event’s second multiple champion when he defended the title he won the previous year; the Serb then made it a hat-trick in Beijing when he beat Jo-Wilfred Tsonga in the 2012 final.
The WTA roll of honour in the Chinese capital is filled with Grand Slam champions and world number ones. Serena Williams won the inaugural women’s tournament in 2004, and Jelena Jankovic lifted the trophy four years later; the other top-ranked players to win in Beijing are Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka. So far, the only woman to win multiple titles at the China Open is Svetlana Kuznetsova, champion in 2006 and 2009.
Nadal def. Coria, 2005 final:
At just 19 years of age, Rafael Nadal was enjoying an outstanding season on the ATP Tour. He had won nine titles - eight of which were on clay - but was beginning to demonstrate his prowess on faster courts. In the 2005 China Open final, he faced Guillermo Coria, the wily Argentine he had beaten in the finals of Monte Carlo and Rome.
Rain earlier in the tournament had meant the Spaniard came into the showpiece match having played three matches in two days, and he looked fatigued early on. Coria, retrieving well and serving impressively, took the opening set 7-5. But Nadal rediscovered his energy in the second set. Hitting with more topspin on his groundstrokes, he ran his more experienced opponent ragged during some lengthy rallies, and powered through the set 6-1.
In the decider, fans witnessed what would become a very familiar sight over the next few years: Rafael Nadal at his fighting best. His trademark lethal combination of defence and offence left Coria scrambling, and he even managed to stay aggressive several metres behind the baseline. At 5-2, 40-15, Nadal watched a Coria backhand sail long, and raised his arms in triumph. This performance proved that the emerging King of Clay had what it takes to succeed on hard courts.
Video: Nadal v Coria, 2005
Williams def. Kuznetsova, 2004 final:
Serena Williams was at an interesting point in her career when she played the China Open for the first time. Having completed the “Serena Slam” and looking nigh on unbeatable, she sustained a serious knee injury after Wimbledon 2003, and didn’t return to the tour until March the following year. Erratic form lead to a disappointing season, and she arrived in Beijing desperate for a title.
Her opponent in the final, Svetlana Kuznetsova, had recently won the US Open, and was tipped by many to get the better of Williams. In a tightly contested first set, the Russian went on the attack when she had the opportunity, but also defended well. She eventually took the opener 6-4 when Williams’ backhand missed the line by millimetres.
The second set treated fans to more intense, high quality rallies. Scurrying to all corners of the court, Kuznetsova continued to force Serena to come up with one more shot, and she broke to lead 4-2. Although Williams broke back and saved two more break points in the eighth game, the US Open champion earned a match point at 5-4. But Serena, determined as ever, saved it, and took the set 7-5 with some commanding play from the baseline.
Williams carried that momentum into the decider, and raced to a 4-0 lead. Yet Kuznetsova, although clearly fatigued, wasn’t ready to give in, and she gradually clawed her way back to 5-4 thanks to some clutch serving and brilliant retrieving. She had a chance to break back for 5-all, but Serena, for once facing the prospect of her opponent make an unlikely comeback, dug deep. She saved the break point with an ace, and moments later sent down another huge first serve to secure her most satisfying win of 2004.
- The China Open was the first non-American tournament to use the Hawk-Eye challenge system.
- Britain's Ross Hutchins won the first ATP doubles trophy of his career in Beijing when he partnered Stephen Huss to win the 2008 title.
- Martina Hingis played her last-ever competitive match at the 2007 China Open, a second round loss to Shuai Peng.
- The Bryan brothers are the only doubles team to win more than one title in Beijing: they triumphed in 2009, 2010 and 2012.