BEIJING — World No 1 Novak Djokovic says it will be at least five years before Asia can produce a top-ranking men’s tennis player and greater support for emerging players is the key.
There is only one Asian among the men’s top 40 — Kei Nishikori of Japan, who is ranked 13th — and he has been based in the US since the age of 14.
Women’s tennis in Asia has been boosted by the rise of Li Na, who has pioneered the sport in China due to her huge popularity as a 2011 French Open winner.
But the women’s world No 5 remains the only Asian singles Grand Slam winner and Djokovic believes more Asian stars are needed in men’s events to raise the profile of the sport.
"First we have to see more Asian players coming towards the top of men’s tennis," he said in Beijing, after winning his opening match at the China Open against Czech Lukas Rosol 6-0, 6-3.
"With bigger support and awareness, I think you can expect better results."
But he said Asia was still a long way from producing a player who could be "dominant".
"I don’t see it happening in the next five years but, you know, maybe I’m wrong."
Djokovic also said "a system that can support the sport in this part of the world" was needed — to invest money and expertise into advancing talented players.
China’s highest-ranked men’s player is Zhang Ze at No 193.
Tennis development in China has been helped by the popularity of global stars such as Djokovic.
The Serb’s nickname among his Chinese fans is "Little D", or "Xiao De" in Mandarin, and he has almost 1.2-million followers on Sina Weibo, a Chinese Twitter equivalent.
The current China Open champion also won praise for his involvement in a charity exhibition match with Li at the start of the tournament last week.
The pair traded shots as well as light-hearted banter across the net during the session and Djokovic delighted the crowd by speaking Mandarin and writing his name in Chinese for the television cameras.
Following his first-round victory, Djokovic praised the China Open and the Shanghai Masters, which is played immediately afterwards, as being among the "best tournaments in the world".