Ace-high Chang must take the game to Beijing

IT will be very interesting to see where Michael Chang plays his tennis in one specific week in October.

Although there are three official Association of Tennis Professionals Tour events to choose from in the week beginning October 18, some of the world's leading players will head for Hongkong and the money on offer in the unofficial, but well-established, Marlboro Championships exhibition tournament.

The ATP Tour cities for that week are Lyons and Vienna in Europe, and Beijing, where the US$300,000 Salem Open will be the first official ranking tournament held in China since the Canton Grand Prix, won by Jimmy Connors, in 1980.

For obvious reasons, Beijing and Hongkong both need Michael Chang to attract publicity for their tournament.

Without him they will still be good - but with him they will be special.

After his first match in Hongkong last Tuesday, Chang said he had not decided where he would be playing - Hongkong or Beijing.

His lucrative three-year contract with the Marlboro Championships ended last year and a spokesman for the organisers said negotiations were still taking place with the Chang camp for this year's event.

Clearly, Chang holds all the aces as both sides clamour for his signature but, in my opinion, there is only one place Chang should be that week - Beijing.

Since winning the French Open in 1989, Chang has put himself forward as a role model for the youth in Asia, hoping his success will lead to more Chinese youngsters taking up the game and, eventually, more Chinese joining the professional tour.

Figures released recently by the Chinese Tennis Association revealed that only 100,000 people play the game in China - or one in every 11,000 of the 1.1 billion population. Those who play competitive tennis, rather than the social or recreational kind, iseven lower - 10,000, or one in every 110,000.

So now, in the form of the official ATP Tour event in Beijing, is a wonderful opportunity to increase the awareness of the sport on the mainland - and I believe Chang has a duty to tennis to help achieve that.

Still only 21, he is wealthy beyond the dreams of most Chinese and through his unprecedented success has been able to monopolise the market in this part of the world in terms of sponsorship, advertising and endorsements.

Now it is time to take the Chang roadshow to Beijing, regardless of the Marlboro money he will be offered to play in Hongkong.