Chengdu: a profile of a Chinese sports city

As the inaugural Chengdu Open men’s tennis championship drew to a close at the beginning of October, Gruffudd Owen looks at how the Chinese city is becoming an increasingly attractive destination for elite-level sport

In the very heart of China is the Chengdu Plain, a fertile area of flat land on which sits the city that carries the same name.

Often referred to as “The Land of Abundance” for its rich soil, generous annual rainfall and agreeable climate, the Plain’s environment has enabled Chengdu to develop into a thriving city over time, with a population in excess of 10 million people making it one of the largest agglomerations in the country.

However, a more apt nickname for the city itself is perhaps The Land of Sporting Abundance, such has been Chengdu’s rapid emergence as one of China’s go-to destinations for high-profile sports events.

In October, Karen Khachanov of Russia was crowned singles champion while South Africa's Raven Klaasen and American Rajeev Ram were victorious in the doubles at the inaugural Chengdu Open, a tennis tournament that replaced the Malaysian Open on the ATP World Tour. 

And the awarding of the World Tour 250 series event to the city for the first time reflects the sport’s growing popularity in Chengdu.

The hometown of Zheng Jie and Yan Zi – winners of the Wimbledon and Australian Open women’s doubles titles in 2006 – it has overseen the construction of more than 700 tennis courts in the past decade, while the Chengdu Tennis Association has also enjoyed a recent upsurge in its membership numbers.

Tennis is not alone in tapping into Chengdu’s reputation as a sporting hub. Since 2014, the Sichuan Provincial Gymnasium has hosted the China Open, one of the most important fixtures in the table tennis calendar that regularly attracts the world’s leading players, while the World Snooker International Championship was also held in the city for three years between 2012 and 2014.

It has also played host to major football matches, with the 40,000-seater Chengdu Sports Centre Stadium in downtown Chengdu chosen as a venue for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Then there’s the Chengdu Dubai International Cup, a horse racing event organised by the Meydan Group that celebrated its third edition this year.

Speaking ahead of this year’s race meet, Meydan Group board member Mohammed Al Shehhi said: “The Chengdu Dubai International Cup allows us the opportunity to further strengthen ties with our partners in China.

“Through this race day we are able to share our passion for the sport of racing with the people of Chengdu.”

Such endorsements can serve only to benefit Chengdu – a vibrant city located on a famous plain that is fast making a name for itself in the sporting world.