The disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai last month following her accusations of sexual assault against a prominent member of the Chinese Communist Party has had international implications for the world of tennis that have now spilled over into the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics which will be played under the cloud of a United States diplomatic boycott that was partially prompted by the censorship of Peng’s social media and subsequent loss of public communication. The ongoing saga surrounding this female tennis athlete jogged my memory bank of two posts I published in early September, 2014 about this young woman’s remarkable experiences at the 2014 US Open. This is the second of two, and it was dated September 06, 2014.
No Hollywood ending was in store for Peng Shuai at the 2014 US Open tennis tournament, the final Grand Slam event of the year. The crowd of 18,000+ spectators did give her a standing ovation as she left the court yesterday following her semi-final match with Caroline Wozniacki, but unfortunately she left that court in a wheelchair and was unable to appreciate the moment of respect.
The bizarre ending to an entertaining duel between two tennis gladiators became bittersweet moments of victory and defeat while stirring a swirl of controversy that was as tempestuous as the wind blowing on the tennis courts at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center. CBS has broadcast the US Open for forty-eight years on television, but this was its final year to cover the event. The Wozniacki/Peng match will certainly be one of the most memorable in the archived footage of its last hurrah for the Open.
The story of the unseeded Peng Shuai’s two-week run to the semi-finals flew under the radar as she quietly upset three of the higher seeds in the tournament and didn’t drop a set until she lost 7-6 to Wozniacki in the first one of the semi-final. The women played for over two hours in the same challenging conditions of gusting winds and brutal heat that had plagued most of the other day matches throughout the second week of the tournament.
The second set started with the same equal ferocity of play as the first with long points and breaks of serve, but in the end the outside forces of wind and heat were the winners – as outside forces often are for all of us in our everyday battles.
Peng Shuai, who is ranked as the number 39 player in the world, succumbed to heat illness in the middle of the second set and was ultimately forced to retire…but not without high drama as she reportedly told the medical personnel she did not want to stop play while they were evaluating her condition off the court. Wozniacki remained calm during the eleven minutes of her opponent’s medical evaluation, but the reaction of the TV commentators was less than sportsmanlike.
Apparently the integrity of the entire tournament was at risk as a result of the possibility that too many minutes were taken between points played in the seventh game which was never finished. Even as Wozniacki herself came across the court to comfort Peng who had slumped to the hard court surface, clearly in agony with tears, the announcers debated the rules of the game related to forfeiture during cramping. Come on, guys and gals. Seriously?
Three hours following her retirement from the match Peng Shuai was feeling better physically and when asked about her condition she replied, “Safe now.”
And then, “I want, but I could not.”
In this match which was her best finish in her 37th. try in Grand Slam events, Peng Shuai literally left everything she had on the court as she refused to give up. “I know I’m not going to stay maybe too long, but I just want to try,” she said about her decision to come back on the court after her initial medical evaluation. “This almost two weeks I feel like I play really good and then I just maybe need to believe more in myself. I keep going, fight and then look forward.”
The good news is that in her home country she is considered to be the “pride of the Chinese people.” The Communist Party People’s Daily says “There is no loser today. Thank you Shuaishuai, you tried your best.”
When the last ball dropped across the net in the final game before she retired, that is exactly what she did. It is what each of us can do. Pain, suffering, hardships abound – they are the elements in our lives and in the lives of those around us which we feel are out of our control; it is up to us to choose to try to make the circumstances of our lives, our communities, our country better. Often we lack the simple belief in ourselves that we can rise, pick up our racquet and finish the game.
We must keep going, fight and then look forward. And this, as Paul Harvey used to say at the end of his radio broadcasts many moons ago, is the rest of the story.
As of this date, the whereabouts of Peng are still a mystery. Will she finally have the happy Hollywood ending she was denied in the semi-finals of the 2014 US Open Tennis Tournament? Stay tuned.
Shuai Peng in Shenzhen, China
January 08, 2020
Photo by Zhong Zhi/Getty Images