Sport should not be affected by politics: Netizens, experts stand against unfair treatment toward Zhang Shuai
Tough triumph
Published: Mar 08, 2022 09:04 PM
Zhang Shuai celebrates with the trophy after winning the Lyon Open on March 6 in Lyon, France. Photo: VCG

Zhang Shuai celebrates with the trophy after winning the Lyon Open on March 6 in Lyon, France. Photo: VCG

Chinese tennis player Zhang Shuai secured her third career title in the Lyon Open final on Sunday after beating Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine, a tough triumph as the spectators overwhelmingly stood by the Ukrainian athlete, with Zhang complaining to the umpire about noisy disturbances several times during the match, which she won 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.  

Eighth seed Zhang, 33, performed under huge pressure right from when her opponent wild-card entrant Yastremska walked onto the court wrapped in the Ukrainian flag, garnering huge applause from the spectators to show support for the athlete, whose country is in a major conflict with Russia.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) replied via the e-mail to the Global Times about Zhang's victory, saying that "it is very exciting to see Zhang Shuai win her 3rd career singles title since 2017 when she won Guangzhou. She has seen great success and winning Lyon is a great accomplishment. It's inspiring to see her perseverance and hard work paid off, and wish her greater success in future."

During the match, Zhang endured several noise distractions from the crowd. She once paused and tried to communicate to the umpire that a spectator was always coughing whenever she prepared to serve. 

"Why does he cough every time I throw the ball, what are they doing?" Zhang said to the umpire. "You sure know."

Not only that, Zhang was booed when she tried to communicate with the referee on whether Yastremska's ball was out of bounds but was apparently ignored by the umpire. 

"How many times?" She asked during the game, as she had already questioned whether a line call in favor of Yastremska was correct or not, which she felt the umpire had also ignored. 

"There is an unspoken rule called 'Game watching etiquette' for spectators that reflects their ethical awareness when being a part of a game. Like when you're in the cinema, you would not talk. In games like tennis, noise from the crowd can impact an athlete's performance," Luo Le, a sports critic, told the Global Times.

Audience's reaction toward Zhang's performance was utterly the opposite to Yastremska's, who they applauded and encouraged when she won points. 

"Whether or not Zhang has been unfairly treated or not, I think, an experienced athlete like her would follow her intuition to make the judgment, and it is normally right," said Luo.

An under-pressure Zhang lost the first set, but she hung on with resilience to take the second and final sets.

According to rules and traditions of tennis matches, audiences should be silent when points are being played to avoid distracting athletes and affecting their judgment.

"If you're watching a tennis match, spectators shouldn't talk or make any noise during a point so neither player is ­distracted," the professional website said.

There have been many cases of players protesting audiences' disturbances to umpires. 

"Come on," Zhang shouted out toward the crowd after winning a critical point that led to her success of the game.

"Such distractions indeed can spoil one's performance, but to the most potential ones, it can be rewarding, and can encourage the player to give even better performance when encountering a setback," Luo said. 

Prior to the match, Eurosport posted that Yastremska had prepared for the Lyon Open by sheltering from bombs in a subterranean car park in Ukraine before fleeing to France with her sister, which garnered the player much admiration and sympathy.

After the match, Zhang gave words of support and encouragement to Yastremska, who said she is donating her prize money to Ukrainian charities.

"I saw many comments and caring words from fans, thank you all for supporting me," Zhang posted on Sina Weibo. On Tuesday, International Women's Day, Zhang posted on Sina Weibo to express her gratitude to her fans, saying "All your encouragement has been received." 

Zhang won approval from many Chinese netizens who sent congratulations to the experienced athlete, saying that she got won a championship that means a lot.

Some netizens have also posted on Sina Weibo to point out that the "sports without borders" idea has clearly not been demonstrated in this "rude" game in France nor been fulfilled by some western countries. 

Some people online also support Zhang's belief that "tennis is just the tennis," which it should not be manipulated by other malicious political intentions and purposes. 

"Your hard work finally paid off and you were the most shining star at that night. You have us and please always remember that the people in the motherland stand with you all the time," a Weibo user commented.

"As athletes, what we do when in a competition is to guarantee every single score we get is clean and with our sincere." Said Zhang, "There should not have other things that against the sport's original goal to be blended in."

"The best way to respond to such situation is to use your superb performance to beat your opponent, which is also a fight back against unfair penalties and unfair treatment," Luo added.