Illustration: Peter C. Espina
The China Open wrapped up on Sunday night in Beijing with Victoria Azarenka defeating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-1 to clinch the women's singles championship. As a supporter of Sharapova, I was somewhat disappointed with the result. However, even more irritating were the guys sitting behind me who offered their running commentary throughout the match.
I was eager to ask them to shut up because I couldn't concentrate on the match between the world's top two female tennis players.
Yet earlier in the tournament things had been worse. While watching Chinese star Li Na take on Sharapova the previous day, a little boy in front of me couldn't stop imitating the Russian beauty's grunts and screeches.
When the boy was finally taken out of the stadium by his father, I still faced other nuisances - the inopportune and raspy "Li Na, jiayou (come on)!" chants from far and near; jeers and applause for Sharapova's double faults; and cries of "haoqiu (good shot)!" even before rallies had ended.
This time, Li didn't tell the noisy crowd to "shut up" as she infamously did during the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, but her fans nonetheless became furious after she lost the second set.
"For these 'hunks and babes' ignorant of the rules, they are not real fashionistas even if they are fashionably dressed," Zhan Jun, a TV sports commentator, said of a young couple leisurely strolling to their box seats as Li was about to serve during a game.
Fans' etiquette while watching the matches has long been criticized since this high-level tennis competition was reinstated in 2004.
Even today, umpires still need to repeatedly remind spectators in relatively clumsy Chinese to keep quiet, take their seats or refrain from flash photography.
But we should remember that the tournament has been around for less than a decade. More patience should be given to let spectators mature collectively. Just as Zhan said on his Sina Weibo account, fans' etiquette should be "gradually fostered."
Another aspect that needs to be overhauled in China is fans' win-at-all-costs expectation for homegrown athletes. It's easy for spectators to lose control of their emotions while watching tennis matches involving Chinese players such as Li Na or Peng Shuai, but they should remember winning isn't everything.
Such scenes remind me of a women's volleyball match I saw during the Beijing Olympics, when the crowd booed China's rivals as they served and cheered at their errors. I've since forgotten the result of the match, but the crowd's hisses are still engraved in my mind.
Complaints aside, I really enjoyed this year's China Open. I was especially impressed by Sharapova's sweet smile at the post-match press conference, which reflected her gracious attitude amid defeat.
It's too early for the China Open to be included as tennis' fifth Grand Slam, but we can see the tournament is steadily developing in that direction. Both players and veteran tennis fans should be tolerant of raucous spectators who need more time to grow up.
Tennis has boomed in China since Li became the country's first Grand Slam champion at the French Open last year. China's next goal should be to cultivate a culture among spectators rooted in sportsmanship and civility.