Asia takes its place in world tour schedule

THE growth of the IBM/ATP Tour has been of enormous benefit to tennis in Asia, which has seen the number of tournaments in the region increase over the last few years.

Before the ATP Tour was launched in 1990, Japan provided the only major stop in Asia for the world's top players.

Occasionally, some players would also compete in the Hong Kong Open.

But with the Salem Hong Kong Open leading the way, Asia has become an integral part of the world circuit.

The ATP's director of marketing Simon Baggs said: 'The Salem Open is the ATP's jewel in the crown of the Asian leg of the world tour.

'There are now 19 events in the non-international region - that is outside Europe and the United States.

'We have tournaments in Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Osaka - although this time it was cancelled because of the earthquake - and Jakarta.

'There are also successful tournaments in Dubai and Doha.' The Salem Open has been part of the ATP Tour since it started in 1990. But only four months before the inaugural tournament, Hong Kong did not even have a spot on the new calendar.

Sponsors had pulled out of a proposed Beijing tournament sanctioned by the ATP and Hong Kong promoters Pro Tennis stepped in.

The event was put together within three months and went off without a hitch.

Organisers were able to entice former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash to accept a wild card and the Australian duly went on to win the tournament.

The ATP were impressed with Hong Kong's ability to put on a tournament in such a short space of time, and the Salem Open became a permanent fixture on the international calendar.

Baggs also praised the sponsors for their commitment to developing the sport in Asia.

Apart from backing the tournament, sponsors R. J. Reynolds Tobacco International (HK) Limited, have also provided talented Asians with a chance to compete at the highest level.

The Salem Asian Championships, played every December at Victoria Park, provides men and women from the region the chance to battle it out for the title of the best player in Asia.

The winner of the men's singles title at the Asian Championships is awarded a wild card into the main draw of the Salem Open, giving him a chance to win computer rankings points.

This year, South Korea Yoon Yong-il has the opportunity to make his name in big-time tennis.

The Salem Open, despite not being a Championship Series event, has nevertheless produced quality champions in its six years.

After Cash won the first event, Dutchman Richard Krajicek beat Wally Masur for the 1991 title.

The 1992 and 1993 events were both won by the then world number one players, Jim Courier and Pete Sampras respectively.

Last year, in probably the most popular victory, crowd favourite Michael Chang lifted the title, beating ailing Australian Patrick Rafter in the final.