At 60 years old, farmer Peng Jufang brought home seven bonsai trees as the prize for finishing runners-up in the inaugural Village Tennis Competition in central China's Hubei Province, partnering with his teammate, 12-year-old Cai Yutong.
"It's a pity that we were just one step away from the champions, but being runners-up was good as well," remarked Peng, who feeds his 50 cows twice a day and dedicates most of his remaining time to playing and teaching tennis.
The surge of village sports events such as the Village Super League and the Village Basketball Competition across China led Jingshan, a county-level city in Hubei, to pioneer the first village tennis tournament from October 13 to the end of the month, attracting over 500 participants nationwide.
Though tennis is seen as a noble sport in some regions, Jingshan residents consider it a daily activity for common people, playing a crucial role in rural revitalization. This is evidenced by the fact that by the end of 2022, over 100,000 of the roughly 534,500 people residing in Jingshan play tennis year-round.
A SPORT FOR ALL
In Jingshan, tennis sheds the label of"noble sport" and aligns with the sport's fundamental goal of promoting fitness. Setting aside their straw hats and farming tools, local farmers display new personas on the tennis courts.
Having played tennis for 35 years, Peng has mentored over 3,000 individuals in tennis skills.
"It's said that tennis is hard to learn, and many people associate the sport with the high-income group, but I think tennis is suitable for all ages and all walks of life," conveyed Peng, adding that tennis aids in maintaining fitness and sharpness."I'm going to keep playing it until I can't."
Farmers, cowherds, primary students, and retirees swinging their rackets on the court drew a crowd of over 5,000 spectators at Jingshan Tennis Center, ranging from babies in parents' arms to nonagenarians.
"The tennis atmosphere in Jingshan is particularly good, with massive participation from residents. Here, we can see that tennis is not only something professional and high-end, but also down to earth," noted Zheng Jie, vice president of the Chinese Tennis Association.
Jingshan began popularizing tennis citywide in the 1980s. To date, the city has constructed more than 340 tennis courts and incorporated tennis courses in 58 primary and middle schools.
LARGER TALENT POOL
Known as"the city of tennis in China," Jingshan has hosted a plethora of tennis matches and activities, including the international junior tour, the National Jingshan Lulin Tennis Tournament, and the Jingshan Tennis Festival.
Zeng Fanying, 71, who has enjoyed tennis for over 30 years, has inspired her son and grandson to partake as well."What makes me most proud is that my grandson has won many champions in the provincial and city-level tennis tournaments," shared Zeng.
In 2018, Hubei Tennis School established its base in Jingshan. One-fifth of its students hail from Anhui, Jiangxi, and other provinces. So far, its students have clinched 24 golds, 14 silvers, and 14 bronzes in national competitions.
Recently, with the emergence of players like Zheng Qinwen, Zhang Zhizhen, and Wu Yibing, Chinese tennis players have achieved numerous breakthroughs in Grand Slam events.
According to Zheng Jie, a two-time doubles Grand Slam winner, such accomplishments on the global platform are intertwined with the fervent tennis atmosphere among the populace.
"When the talent pool enlarges, it becomes easier to scout outstanding players," pointed out Zheng, who initiated the"Zheng Jie Cup," a tournament targeting young players nationwide.
"When I first commenced the tournament around 2014, there were only a few junior participants. But now, the registration for the U10 and U12 groups gets filled up in mere seconds," she recounted.
A VILLAGE'S TENNIS DREAM
Wenfeng Village, boasting more than 80 tennis courts, pioneered the first village tennis competition of Hubei."All of our villagers can play tennis, and it's our dream to enrich the village with tennis-related industry," declared Hu Zhipeng, village leader of Wenfeng.
According to Hu, the village has invested over 500,000 yuan (around 68,000 U.S. dollars) to prepare for the opening ceremony and prizes for the competitions, aiming to attract more tourists to Wenfeng to watch tennis matches, and relish local hot springs and cuisine during the month-long competition.
"I do hope that tennis matches can spring up like mushrooms across China, but Jingshan is irreplaceable in the terms of organizing village tennis competitions," emphasized Zheng Jie.
Utilizing tennis training, matches, and local resources like hot springs and ecological agriculture, Jingshan has drawn millions of tourists and amassed a comprehensive output value of 6.79 billion yuan from January to August.
"Hopefully, Jingshan can continue to host the village competitions in the years to come, so that more people can realize through this platform that the threshold of tennis is not as high as people have imagined," Zheng articulated.