With only a couple of weeks until Wimbledon 2015, we look to Weibo to provide some answers as to where the loyalties of the Chinese will lie in the post-Li Na era.
The Wimbledon Championship is a global icon, and was voted as 2014 Sports Brand of the Year. In less than two weeks’ time, SW19 is once again set to host the biggest names in the world of tennis. But how will interest develop in China over the Wimbledon fortnight?
Until her retirement at the end of last year, Li Na was China’s stand-out tennis player for over a decade. Asia’s only Grand Slam singles champion, and the first to break into the world’s top 10, Li Na’s feats have helped stimulate a growth of tennis players in China. Her celebrity status and reputation as a pioneer for Chinese tennis continues to permeate the country. With more than 23 million Sina Weibo followers, Li Na has a larger fanbase than the ‘Big 4’ of Djokovic, Murray, Federer and Nadal have combined on Twitter (18.5 million).
It is clear that Chinese women are far more successful than their male counterparts. Last year’s number 1 doubles seed Peng Shuai has nearly half a million followers on Weibo and greater levels of interaction than Andy Murray. She is one of 11 Chinese women inside the top 200 and provides a stark contrast to their male counterparts. Indeed, at 205th in the world, Zhang Ze is China’s highest ranking tennis player and has a fanbase on Weibo with a meagre 19 followers!
As a result, the Chinese people have turned to support Novak Djokovic (4.5 million followers) and Andy Murray (1.1 million followers). Although this quails in comparison with Li Na’s popularity, it should not gloss over the fact that China would dearly love a male tennis star. Zhang Ze was the last man to represent China at a grand slam, but was defeated by Lleyton Hewitt in the first round of the Australian Open 2015, highlighting the gaps that need to be bridged if a Chinese male is to set his name in lights.
As far as Wimbledon is concerned, there is scope for optimism. Over the last 30 days, its Weibo account has surged to third in terms of account growth behind only Li Na and Novak Djokovic. Despite the final outcome, this years’ French Open was a success for Djokovic’s social media presence. The way he conducted himself after his loss to Wawrinka endeared himself with the Chinese people and he had interaction of nearly 20,000 on his post-match post. This bodes well for continued support throughout the Wimbledon fortnight for which he is favourite to lift the trophy for a third time.
Until Chinese initiatives at the grassroots level produce top level talent in the men’s game, it will be Djokovic and Murray who will continue to dominate the thoughts of Chinese tennis enthusiasts. As for Wimbledon, there is no doubt that how these two perform on the grass in early July will reflect on their social media popularity.