The Michael Chang Effect
In 1989, Michael Chang became the first player of Asian descent to win a grand slam title at the French Open. At 5 foot 9 inches (small by tennis standards), he proved that size isn’t everything – demonstrating that you can compensate with speed, a sharp intellect, and heart to endure the two weeks of a Grand Slam and end in the winner’s circle. Not only did this spur the greatest generation of American players to ever play the game with Jim Courier, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi to follow, it also inspired the next generation of Asian players that are impacting the growth and development of tennis in their emerging markets. We are now witnessing the Michael Chang effect in full swing.
Growth of Tennis in Asia
Many young players carried that moment with them as they rose the professional ranks. Paradorn Srichaphan represented Thailand and became the first Asian Male to reach the top 10; He was an absolute superstar who tirelessly promoted the sport in Asia; In 2011, Li Na became the first Asian player to win a grand slam with her French Open title; Kei Nishikori(with Chang as his coach) broke new ground as the 2014 US Open Finalist, first Asian Male in the top 5, and highest ranked Japanese player of all time; and the ageless Paes and Bhupathi have had nearly unparalleled success and longevity on the doubles circuit. A growing middle class, a new crop of young players, and a slew of professional events have created the largest moving new fan base for the sport. When Thomas Friedman wrote The World Is Flat, I’m sure he wasn’t thinking about a chapter on tennis; However, globalization has hit the sport with full force and it is a topic I will begin to visit and revisit on My Side of the Net.
My Side of The Net
With 6 ATP events and counting, Champions League Tennis, and the launch of International Premier League Tennis, Asia is increasingly becoming the next frontier for tennis. The Australian Open re-branded itself as the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific to cater to Asian fans, but I believe in coming years we may see a controversial 5th slam appear on home soil. I only hope that this growth will continue to open doors for more diversity, lower barriers to entry, and newly crowned champions in the sport.