Tennis Diplomacy? ROC-PRC Wimbledon Doubles Champs

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 7/07/2013 06:41:00 PM
 As a casual tennis fan, I usually don't watch the doubles matches at Wimbledon. I guess it was by luck that I caught the women's doubles final after watching France's Marion Bartoli maul Germany's Sabine Lisicki. As with most doubles events--even the finals--the crowd at Centre Court was sparse. However, the result was remarkable from an International Relations standpoint insofar as the identities of the winning players went: Hsieh-Hsu Wei of Taiwan and Peng Shuai of China soundly defeated Australian duo Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 7-6 6-1.  Despite it being 3 AM in Taipei and Beijing, you can rest assured that hordes of tennis fans there burnt the midnight oil!

How many times have you seen the ROC and PRC laud their joint achievements? Few and far between since cooperation is sparse. Remember that regular flights between the two did not exist until 2003. The officials news agencies are ecstatic. The only difference is that China Daily (Xinhua) names Peng before Hsieh, while Focus Taiwan (Central News Agency or CNA) names Hsieh before Peng!

Unlike most top women's players, neither is a product of the Nick Bolletieri's tennis academy in Florida. The TV commentator--American champion Tracy Austin--kept mentioning their "unorthodox" style of play. As a former doubles champion at Wilmbledon, she should know a thing or two about the subject. I particularly enjoyed it when she singled out a shot made by Hsieh that resembled her fanning out the racket. Austin implied that she'd never seen tennis pros make such a shot, but any table tennis fan would have recognized it as a topspin drive!

There's even a reunification story to match that concerning their non-Western ("unorthodox") approach to playing doubles tennis:
The pair, who are both 27, played a few tournaments together as amateurs but ended their partnership after turning pro. After a seven-year hiatus, Hsieh asked Peng at the 2008 US Open if she would be up for a renewed association. The duo reunited by the end of that year 2008 and won their first 11 matches, claiming titles in Bali and Sydney.

Both Peng and Hsieh play two-handed shots on both sides, like Marion Bartoli, who won the Wimbledon singles title on Saturday.

"It's probably the first time (two-handed players) win the singles and the doubles," Peng said. Peng and Hsieh said they opted for this unorthodox style of play because they were too small to hold their rackets with one hand when they were kids.
Yes, it's largely a non-story in the rest of the world since few watch doubles. But in Taiwan and China, it's big news that's been splashed on the front pages of either country. From sporting events, thawing of international relations may spring forth: Four decades ago ping-pong diplomacy heralded normalization of China-US ties when an American athlete mistakenly boarded the bus of Chinese players What more the symbolism of an ROC-PRC partnership to win one of the world's most prestigious sporting events?

After all, a doubles champion at Wimbledon is every much a winner of the event as that of the singles titles. That both China's won it is, well, unprecedented and laden with symbolism for what may lie ahead.