A Tale of Two (Chinese) Players

Charles Dickens once immortalized in one of the greatest literary works of all time:

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times (…)”

Not my intention here to compare the following piece with “A Tale of Two Cities”, but also cannot forget where the inspiration came from.

The best of times... (Photo: SI.com)


An absurd just like that, maybe even bigger, would be calling Peng Shuai the best of times, and her counterpart, Li Na, the worst. But still, the titles fits – this brief text will be about two Chinese players – and her fortunes on the pro circuit. Hence, their tales.


It’s a perfect plot for a novel. The prologue would be the Australian Open, exactly one year ago. Li Na – who is also featured in the main plot – and Jie Zheng – who could be the perfect choice for the supporting role – showed the world Chinese tennis was more than paddles and a table – the could play on a full-sized court! They both reached the semifinals, but fell, and Zheng basically faded, while Li Na showed some life in the grass swing, with a great QF run at Wimbledon and the Birmingham title, but pretty much only this.


Of course, it never comes easy. It takes some time to mature it, but when it does, when the perfect conditions are set, it works beautifully. That being said, we can set 2011 as the stage, WTA as the scenario and crowded courts all around the world as the background.


Because in ’11, we saw the first chapter of this tale, and it was written by a charismatic underdog, who slowly conquered fans and wins, until pretty much everyone had been bitten by the Li Na loving bug, and the wagon was pretty full. Would be foolishness and naivety to point the kickoff of her 2011 as the best of times, but when you look closely, she ended up being one win shy of bolding even more the history he wrote. 11 wins to start the ’11 season – got the unintended symbolism? – setting a new personal best, beating Kim Clijsters to clinch the Sydney title.


And then the Australian Open. And the unbeaten streak only increased. Six, seven matches, favorites falling, a consistent, forehand-based play, funny post-match interviews, and all of a sudden, she tied her ’11 Australian Open result. Yup, she made back-to-back semifinals. And better! In a twist of the plot, Li Na extended the reigning queen of the Association search for her maiden Slam at least for more five months. 11-0 to start the year, and a rematch with Kim Clijsters for the big prize. The perfect ending for a perfect history, a player who overcame an injury-plagued career, all the difficulties of being a female Chinese player.


(Let’s not lose ourselves in the timeline. The other main actress of this thing had fallen in the 4th round, to Agnieszka Radwanska; but at that point, no-one would care for one of the few both sides two-handed of the pro circuit)


But life is not art. It is not a book or something like, even though sometimes we live some crazy situations we thought could only exist in the disturbed mind and the pen of some writer. Or maybe this paragraph was totally unnecessary so far. But the point is, 11 didn’t become a dozen. Because on the other side of the net, in opposition of the Cinderella, was the Super Mom, a hero turned villain only for that night. And she denied the first ever singles title for an Asian player. But, you know, as we all say, game on. And by that time, our little rebel, tattooed, sympathetic Li Na was pointed by many as a strong nominee for best actress – and just in case you can’t read metaphors, no, by that I don’t mean become world no.1.

...the worst of times (Photo: Yahoo! Images)

But you know, yikes, life is more unpredictable than a disturbed mind. And when your mind is disturbed, life just becomes even more unpredictable. Who could imagine Li would suffer with the Runner-Up syndrome? Yes, because 11 didn’t turn 12 in the Land Down Under. And it also didn’t turn 12 in the desert. Or in the United States. And, dear readers, Li Na experienced the best of her times and also the worst – this 5-loss streak she’s currently riding is the worse of her career. Only the losses by themselves would be enough, but it gets even worse when you put it on perspective and realize she lost to players like Klara Zakopalova and Johanna Larsson.



And then you have her. (Photo: Yahoo! Images)



But while she struggles, a fellow countrywoman is stealing the show. If this were a book, Peng would be that secondary character that slowly gets more space and then boom, she’s there as a main star.


Well, ok, let’s not exaggerate things. Peng’s not poised to be a main star – yet – but this year’s being her best, without a single doubt, even though her career high dates back to 2005. Take a look at this and tell me you’re not impressed:


She beat a two-time Slam champion – Sveta, oh dear – twice this year; she also beat the defending Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, the former no.1 Jelena Jankovic and even Li Na. Peng also stands with a 3-2 record vs. top-10 this year, and has won just as many main draw matches as the world no.1 Wozniacki (21), a WTA best. Oh, and the rankings? Well, it’s o.k. if you don’t even notice the world no.72… but when this player climbs about 40 spots in less than four months, you ought to keep an eye on her.


2011 is a book. And here I’m calling that writer I’m sure still lives inside me (but he usually writes in his mother tongue). It’s a book still on its first chapters. There are still many twists in the plot, many killing, many fake-positives, many disappointments to happen. This is just the beginning. And yes, it’s a hell of an appetizer.


But one thing is for sure: at least for the Chinese tennis, it’s already being and has everything to be an even more, unforgettable year, a turning point. And, oh boys and gals, I tell you, never underestimate the Chinese. If they decide they like this racquet-net-ball thing, they will go on with that. And when they decide they want to be best…



Peter S., Daily Scores talking head and amateur Space Shuttle pilot in the spare time, never jumped in the bandwagon


About Pete S. Liguori
Pete was born in São Paulo, Brasil. Loves sports - pigskin fanatic, tennis lover. One of his most famous quotes is "I'm no Tolstoi, but I love the Dallas Cowboys" His favorite quote of all time is "I'll keep playing", unknown author.

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