TAIPEI, Chinese Taipei - It has been about a year since the WTA 125K Series officially got underway, and with a dual purpose - to provide an opportunity for emerging markets to showcase a women's tennis product, as well as to give lower-ranked and up-and-coming players a chance to shine.
Seven tournaments in, the WTA 125K Series has definitely been successful in both those goals.
Everyone knows the Asia-Pacific region is a fast-growing market for women's tennis, and the WTA 125K Series has been the perfect example of that - four of this year's five tournaments took place there, with three stops in China (Suzhou, Ningbo and Nanjing) and one in Chinese Taipei (Taipei). The other took place in one of the world's other fastest-growing markets - South America (Cali, Colombia).
As the popularity of the sport keeps growing in the Asia-Pacific, the tournaments will come - and from a different perspective, those tournaments will keep growing and growing, and the players will come.
"I think the WTA 125K Series is a very good idea," said Caroline Garcia, who just won the doubles title in Taipei over the weekend. "It's not only young players who come and play, it's also established players who were injured and are coming back, just like the final in Taipei this week between Alison and Yanina. And sometimes to finish your season in October is a little bit early if you don't want to just practice for three months - some players want more. It's good for anyone who wants to play more."
Garcia won that doubles title with Yaroslava Shvedova, who is loving Asia more and more every year.
"A few years ago it was difficult to come to Asia," Shvedova said. "It was far, the culture, language and food were so different - but now I'm a little bit older and smarter, and I'm trying to understand everything more, try different things and see different cities, and I'm really trying to learn about the history, because there are so many old and interesting things in Asia. I'm finding myself going to more Asian tournaments, discovering cities and museums and food - it's so much more enjoyable now."
Shvedova had some particularly nice things to say about this past week's venue - Taipei.
"I went to the museum here and learned about the history of Taipei, the dynasties and everything," she said. "I also visited the zoo. I saw a panda for the first time. I heard she just had a baby, too. And I've been finding a lot of the nice local foods - yesterday I had the hot pot, it was the first time I've experienced that, and I liked it a lot. It may have given me the energy to win the title this week!
"But it's great to have this tournament here. I played here a few years ago when it was an ITF event, and even then the organization was excellent. And it's improving all the time. I'm really happy the WTA gave them a chance to upgrade to a WTA 125K Series tournament. It's a great city with great people."
And Shvedova even made a little bit of a prediction about the future of tennis in Asia.
"Maybe in 10 years they'll have another Grand Slam here!" she said with a smile.
As for the second goal - to give the WTA's lower-ranked and up-and-coming players a chance to play more tournaments - the roster of WTA 125K Series winners so far is like a Who's Who of future stars.
In the seven WTA 125K Series events that have taken place so far, two in 2012 and five in 2013, six of the seven winners were born in the 1989-1994 range - Kristina Mladenovic, Elina Svitolina, Lara Arruabarrena, Bojana Jovanovski, Zhang Shuai and Alison Van Uytvanck. Three of them - Mladenovic, Svitolina and Jovanovski - have since broken into the 30-40 range in the WTA Rankings, with Zhang seemingly next to join that club and Arruabarrena and Van Uytvanck still on the rise as well.
Garcia's comments about injured players coming back is exemplified by Shahar Peer, the only WTA 125K Series champion born before that 1989-1994 range - the 26-year-old Israeli, a former World No.11, bounced back into the Top 100 after winning Suzhou. She finished the year ranked No.77.
Here's to more up-and-comers and comeback kids shining on the WTA 125K Series in 2014.