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Feature: New Era, New Chapter

New Era, New Chapter
October 15, 2023

There are many rich chapters in Michael Luevano's long connection to tennis in Shanghai.

A journey that began with hosting a small ATP tournament in 1998 expanded to hosting five editions of the Tennis Masters Cup (now the ATP Finals) and the establishment of the Rolex Shanghai Masters as a marquee event on the global tennis calendar. 

Within those 25 years, Mr Luevano has welcomed Grand Slam legends, crowned next-generation superstars and helped create a new wave of popularity for tennis in China. 

But the staging of the 2023 Rolex Shanghai Masters is arguably the most memorable chapter for Mr Luevano, who as Rolex Shanghai Masters Tournament Director has been delighted to see the world's best players return to Shanghai for the first time since 2019. 

"It's amazing, life-changing, and something that I don't think very few people can really appreciate because we basically, as a business, have been closed for four years," Mr Luevano said, as the 2023 edition reached its conclusion. 

"I'll always remember 2023 as when returned from the pandemic and had a great tournament thus far, and it's going to be in my memory forever."

The Rolex Shanghai Masters has not only returned this year but was actually bigger than ever, with an expanded 96-player draw and the tournament contested across 12 days.
It's a testament to the passion that Mr Luevano and his long-time business partner, Mr Charles Humphrey Smith, have brought to their leadership at Juss Event, which stages the tournament. 

"It's been a long history, but it's been great," the Rolex Shanghai Masters Tournament Director said, and who still vividly recalls launching the Heineken Open in 1998. 

"It was a not a very developed tennis market back in those days. There was professional tennis, but very limited investment."

As their business has progressed in Shanghai, so too has the sport itself. The cyclical nature of professional tennis has been illuminated for Mr Luevano at this tournament, with many new faces among those he personally greets at the airport on their arrival into the city. 

 "I hadn't probably 50 percent (of the 2023 Rolex Shanghai Masters players) because literally there was a next generation in 2019 and now there's a next, next gen," he said.

Alongside those new faces, Mr Luevano has been delighted to welcome well-entrenched favourites, including Roger Federer in a special visit this year. 

"He has a love affair with the city," he smiled of the two-time Rolex Shanghai Masters champion, who was named an Icon Athlete of the tournament this year. 

Every player, whether new or returning, clearly loves what they experience at this event. The Rolex Shanghai Masters received the player-voted ATP Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year for five consecutive years between 2009 and 2013. 

Competitors in the 2023 field have spoken constantly of the superb facilities and hospitality that they experience in Shanghai. It's a benchmark that Mr Luevano, and the broader Juss team, are proud to set. 

"It's a priority. It's a number one priority. I mean, our principal mandate is to promote the city of Shanghai. As a tournament, it's our name card to the world," he said.  

"Our number two priority is to make sure that the players have a great experience, which translates into happy stakeholders, and very positive behind-the-scenes talk in the locker room, that is very important to us. 

 "The Chinese culture are fantastic hosts, so we carry that in everything we do, in our training and our selection of the people that work on our front lines, it's very, very, very important to us." 

As local fans and players take inspiration from the iconic players who've competed in Shanghai - including Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray - there's a positive flow-on effect for the sport itself. 
 "I would like to say, maybe, there's a little credit due me, but it was really their imagination and perseverance, like any young, young junior Chinese player," Mr Luevano said of the importance of attracting such high-profile players to China. 

"You know, you hear Zhang Zhizhen talk about Roger, poster-on-the-wall type of conversations that I feel good about, I feel very good about."

It highlights a further shift in the tennis narrative, which Mr Luevano is delighted to discuss. Four Chinese players competed in the Rolex Shanghai Masters main draw, with Shanghai-born Zhang creating history in his progress to the fourth round. The fast-rising 18-year-old Shang (Jerry) Juncheng also featured, as did Bu Yunchaokete and Te Regele.

It shows that men's tennis in China is surging towards the heights that Li Na, a former world No.2 and two-time Grand Slam champion, and her Chinese contemporaries have set on the women's Tour. 

"This breakout last 18 months by Wu Yibing, Zhang Zhizhen the very young player, Jerry Shang and even the local players here that I've known and that we work with, are all stepping up to a new level," Mr Luevano said. "Triple Z as we call him here and, of course, Wu Yibing, who took a title was landmark."

The future for the Rolex Shanghai Masters is equally bright. Further steps in a three-phase renovation plan at the Qi Zhong Tennis Center include enhancements to the indoor stadium, refurbishment of lights on the field courts and improvements to hospitality suites, plus fan food and beverage experiences. A further phase will incorporate a new stadium with another retractable roof. 

In the meantime, Mr Luevano is delighted to add another name to the spectacular Rolex Shanghai trophy. "We're in a new era, once again, a new chapter," he smiled. "A new champion is great."
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