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ATP Challenger Tour Dispatch: Tianjin

Tianjin, China

Di Wu© Jacky WangDi Wu is looking to become the first Chinese-born player to win a ATP Challenger Tour title.

Veteran tennis writer Robert Davis will be following the ATP Challenger Tour circuit this year and will write a series of reports. This week, he is at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Tianjin, China.

The ATP Challenger Tour Returns To China
Now we are in Tianjin which is three hours north of Beijing if you take a local bus, or less than 22 minutes if you opt for the Super Bullet Train. For some reason, I chose the bus. One of the great things about the ATP Challenger Tour is all the travel to exotic locals where players and coaches get the opportunity to observe local customs. Here in China they say that the sweet would not be so sweet without the sour. Well, if sharing a bus with 80 plus passengers who are hell bent on making one mobile phone call after another while clearing both nasal and throat passages, the entire journey is part of the package then so be it.

One Day In The Life On The Challenger Tour
In consideration of the foreign players tournament, organizers have arranged a special breakfast room with an Ouannaegg station, cornflakes, muesli and tinned fruits section. However, most of the Asian players chose the Imperial Clouds breakfast room. What awaited certainly sounded good; Heavenly Morning Glory, Fermented Mother of Quail eggs, Bastard Dog Tongue and Your Peas In a Pod.

Bang on time our bus pulls out of the hotel and without the slightest thought of braking for the half dozen pedestrians and bicyclists blocking our way, speeds towards FuYou Road in the direction of the Tianjin Healthy Industry Park, which also happens to be our title sponsor.

Along the way to the Tianjin International Tennis Center we cruise down neatly swept streets and sidewalks that are wide enough to land jumbo jets, but strangely empty of all traffic. One thing that China does not lack is real estate, and this tennis facility is built on a vast flatland. Here are two stadium courts that look like giant bamboo baskets with enough practice courts to accommodate all. We could not ask for a better facility. Each and every amenity is available.

There is a local tea ceremony each day at noon where players can see how tea is served proper in China. The staff is friendly and speak English. They genuinely want to help and any miscommunications are not their fault.

No Coach, No Problem
Here on the Challenger Tour players are their own bosses. Most cannot afford coaches, and so they have to govern themselves. Imagine a 20-something young man in charge of a company where he is both boss and employee? One young man who did himself proud is Nicolas Meister from UCLA university. Boasting a three-month-old beard and a hard rock Paleothic body, Meister was taking a whipping at the hands of Shuichi Sekiguchi in the first round down 6-2, 5-1 when he dug in tooth and nail. Strokes were traded back and forth dozens of times till eventually someone missed. The game went to deuce several times before Sekiguchi prevailed. It would be a long time before Meister would leave the court.

If there is one player here who has been there and done that it is Danai Udomchoke of Thailand. Back in 2007 he beat Juan Carlos Ferrero at the Australian Open and lost to Andy Roddick at Wimbledon. Throughout his career, he has played some of the best in the world and today he happily travels with his wife and young son on the ATP Challenger Tour.

“Tennis is my life”, says Udomchoke. “The ATP has given me the chance to share my dream with my family.”

It is late in the day and the bus has rolled up to the Player's Entrance. Young men stripped to the waist with ice packs and racquet bags and headphones board the bus, while out on practice court 7 a desperate young man works on his serve.

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