Tennis global evolution (3) Tennis fans across the world know that the sport today is more global than ever before. Sure, the same two men have been dominant for the last six years, but between Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling and Co. the field is talented at the top. On the women's tour, eight countries were featured in the top 10 of the 2010 year-end rankings, led by a Dane without a Grand Slam to her name. Following the Australian Open, the top-10 players hailed from 10 different countries for the first time since the inception of the WTA rankings in 1975. The bigger story is the emergence of the Russians and long-awaited dominance of the Spanish. Let's start with the Russians, in particular the women. There wasn't a single woman in the top 100 in 1980—five made the cut in 1990 and seven in 2000. At the end of 2010, there were 16 in total, including the world's No. 2 and No. 9 players and three more in the top 20. The Russian women tend to be cut from the same cloth...aggressive baseliners who are solid off both wings, excellent movers and even better counterpunchers. This fits Vera Zvonareva down to a tee, and it's also a pretty accurate description of former star Elena Dementieva and current players Maria Kirilenko, Maria Sharapova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, all top-20 players. Nadia Petrova and Alisa Kleybanova are slower and more powerful, but their game, too, is dictated by their baseline capabilities. Further showing the strength of the nation, the Fed Cup team has won four titles in the last six years and is only second best to the Italian team, which features four players inside the world's top 40. The emergence of Spain is less of a surprise, but they have also come a long way in the past few decades. In 1980, they had four men in the top 100. Today, it's eight men in the top 20, with the nation hosting two ATP 500 events and one ATP 1000 tournament for the men and a pair of International events and the highly-popular Premier meeting in Madrid for the ladies. The stunning Agora in Valencia—opened in 2009 for the ATP 500 event—and the $3 million Caja Mágica complex—opened in Madrid in the same year for the Masters—shows the kind of development the Spanish are putting into their tennis facilities. Rafael Nadal is the best thing to happen to the country since 1994 when Sergi Bruguera and Alberto Berasategui played in the first all-Spanish Grand Slam final, Conchita Martínez became the first Spanish woman to win Wimbledon, and the country won a total of 26 titles (14 ATP and 12 WTA) and its third Fed Cup. Then there's China. The WTA says recreational tennis has grown almost exponentially since the sport came back to the Olympic Games, from one million people in 1988 to 14 million today. The development of 30,000 courts has helped that project, and the Chinese Government is hoping to double its number of people playing tennis by 2016. The Swing for the Stars partnership, promoting the development of tennis practices in China, was unveiled in 2008, providing training to 250 junior players under 12, as well as 100 junior coaches. Add to that China's new national amateur tennis league, the Open Rating Tour, launched in '09, the creation of the Michael Chang Mission Hills Tennis Academy in Shenzhen and the investment in the sport in the run up to the Beijing Olympics the previous year and you start to see why tennis has erupted at the grassroots level. The WTA has also opened offices in the country, and the China Open, being held for the third time this October in Beijing, is one of the most prestigious tournaments on the calendar. The hi-tech Olympic Green Tennis Center, with 10 air-conditioned courts and six practice facilities, is a perfect venue, only seven years old and purposely built for the Olympics. After Li Ting and Sun Tiantian won gold in the women's doubles at the Athens Olympics in 2004, coach Sun Jinfang told China.org reporter Li Xiao: "Tennis is different from many other sports, because you cannot make any progress without heavy investment." The Chinese Tennis Association backed up this claim, investing $725,000 in sending its women tennis players to compete abroad. Spending in developing men's tennis took the total to over $1.2 million. The investment has now come to fruition. Li Na and Jie Zheng became the first Chinese pair to make it to the semifinals of the same Grand Slam when No. 16 Li and unseeded Jie got to the final four in Australia in 2010. Li was also one good set of tennis away from a Grand Slam in Melbourne this year, and many pundits think that 2011 will really be her year to shine. Li's captivating personality and no-nonsense approach has won her a lot of fans, all while helping tennis' popularity continue to grow back home. Tennis will remain one of the top three sports in China for a long, long time and people are starting to get behind their players like never before. The Future? Just as Serbia came out of nowhere in 2008, through the emergence of Novak Djokovic, Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, the tennis world is now looking forward to seeing what will happen next. Australia is not nearly as strong as it once was and America has only a few legit prospects coming through the system. People have questioned America's development program, even John McEnroe. He decided to open his own academy on Randall's Island when he was told that his developmental objectives did not mesh with those of the USTA, headed up coincidentally by brother Patrick. Outside of the US, Eastern Europe, and, in particular, Central Asia, are set to make massive strides in the next 10-15 years. While there's no sign of France and Spain slowing down, competition will increase at a rapid rate. China is also going to continue to grow, and if it keeps putting the investment in, it's only a matter of time until its men catch up with the women. I believe a Chinese woman will win multiple Grand Slams in the next decade. Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have also started to produce top-50 players, something unheard of a decade ago, and there's every chance growth will continue, if slowly, over the coming years. The Presidents' Cup has been held in Kazakhstan for the last four seasons, and the rapid growth of its Davis Cup team, promoted from the Asia/Oceania Zone of Group II in 2006 and now in the World Group for the first time, shows the sport is on the rise. The Kazakhs are on similar footing with Sweden right now, and we know the pedigree and history there. Don't count out smaller tennis countries like Japan and South Korea producing top-20 players in the not-so-distant future, either. In Western Europe, Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova became the first person to make the semifinals of a Grand Slam in the Open era when she got to the final four of Wimbledon in 2010, but this is an exception to the norm, and there's nothing to support the idea that the nation will be a legit threat any time in the future. Great Britain is another nation that has struggled in the tennis world for several years now, and Sport England says it is one of the five most underperforming participation sports in the country. However, with $40 million being invested between 2009 and 2013, partly because of the 2012 Olympics in London, there's every reason to believe the Brits will rise again. The popularity of Andy Murray has certainly helped tennis there, and even though he's only 23 years old, you have to think his best days will be behind him in five or six more years. Likewise, Elena Baltacha (No. 57) and Anne Keothavang (No. 91) are the best British ladies, but they're both 27 and unlikely to usher in a new era of elite tennis. I'm high on teenagers Heather Watson and Laura Robson, and having watched them play a bunch of times, I think they both have bright futures ahead of them. Watson is now getting Fed Cup experience and Robson, a lefty who won Wimbledon as a junior, is a big-serving, hard hitting talent who has been working with Ana Ivanovic. Even so, Britain has a lot of work ahead of itself if it is to ever get out of the Europe/Africa group, a place they have been in for the last seven years. Moving on to South America, if you're talking about Olympic investment then Brazil, too, has to be on your list because of the fact they will be pumping money into the sport ahead of the 2016 Games. The Marapendi Club in Rio de Janeiro, used during the 2007 Pan American Games, is a suitable venue, but the Olympics will bring a state-of-the-art facility in about 18 months' time. The country will spend an estimated $46 million on the four-court Olympic Tennis Center in Barra da Tijuca in Rio de Janeiro and the newly-created Brazil Open Series, a low-level Challenger event, will increase the reputation of the sport in and around Curitiba. Just as Spain, America, Australia and China invested in tennis in 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008 respectively, Brazil will look to return to tennis prominence and prove that it's not just Argentina leading the way down there. Whatever happens, tennis is as exciting and global as it ever was before, and it's only going to get stronger. From the Americans and Europe to Asia and Australia, we're lucky to be witnesses to this part of tennis history. The future looks bright, and we're at the center of it.