For the next three weeks, the eyes of the tennis world are firmly fixed on Asia for what’s come to be known as “the Asian swing”, which, rather than being an oriental piece of playground apparatus, is a three-week spell that often play an unusually important role in the season.
That’s mostly because of its place in the calendar and specifically its proximity to the season-ending finals. It is a chance to really make a push for the one or two slots in the eight-person events that realistically remain up for grabs; for others, who may be out of contention, it’s an opportunity to pick up points that for whatever reason they were unable to gain earlier in the season.
The Asian swing began this week – on the men’s side – in Thailand and Malaysia, while the women began in Seoul and Guanghzhou. For the men, this is the fourth year after the Tour set up a month in Asia when the World Tour Finals moved from Shanghai to London in 2009.
The 2009 swing is a perfect example of what can happen. When Nikolay Davydenko won the title in Kuala Lumpur, no one really raised an eye; when he won the Masters 1000 in Shanghai, a few people sat up and took notice. But the Russian then made his mark in a big way just a few weeks later when he romped to victory in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, the biggest win of his career by far. Asia had provided him with the confidence.
Someone always makes a run – Janko Tipsarevic (pictured above) kick-started his run to London in 2011 (as an alternate, who ended up beating his fellow Serb Novak Djokovic) by winning in Kuala Lumpur. “A lot of decision-making is going to be done in these few tournaments and every victory counts," Tipsarevic said this week. Last year, of course, Andy Murray won three titles on the trot in Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai to round of his season nicely, a way to make up for his rather lacklustre post-Australian Open period in 2011.
On the women’s side, Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska won in Tokyo and Beijing last year to force her way into the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul, results that set her up for a superb 2012 in which she reached her first grand slam final at Wimbledon and has been ranked as high as No 2.
Asia has been a springboard for success so perhaps Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki, who won in Seoul last week, and Hsieh su-Wei of Chinese Taipei, who won in Guanghzhou, China, will look back on the Asian swing and say: ‘this is where it all started to go right’. Laura Robson, who reached her first Tour final in Guangzhou, seems one to watch for the future.
And of course, there is the importance of encouraging the development of tennis in Asia. While the women have broken through to grand slam winning ranks, through Li Na at the French Open last year, the men have been slower to make it. Japan’s Kei Nishikori, Asia’s leading player on the men’s Tour, is positive that having tournaments in Asia will pay off in the long run.
"A lot of young kids start playing tennis and I think it’s getting stronger, so I think it’s very important that I do well in Asia and hopefully there’s more Asian tournaments on the tour. Hopefully in the future”.