Apparently Asians are into tennis. Although this writer is also an avid tennis player, he wasn’t aware of this recent phenomenon. To be honest, tennis has not been as prevalent a sport as badminton, table-tennis or World of Warcraft have been among the Asian community. Unlike those, tennis has not been ingrained into our minds as a traditionally ‘Asian activity.” Tennis originated in Europe in the 19th century, and that is where its popularity primarily still lies. Only recently has tennis hit Asian radars, mainly through significant inroads being made by Asian ladies in the past few years, and of course, the Chinese-American who started it all for Asians in tennis back in the late 80′s and early and mid 90′s ““ Michael Chang.
Let’s face it; if it were not for Michael Chang and the legacy he left on the sport, Asians in tennis would practically be non-existent. He is cited as being a significant driving influence for the Chinese assault on the sport in recent years. His tenacity, court speed, creativeness and all-round game were a joy to watch and set precedence for Asians to follow in his footsteps.
His coup de grace came in 1989 when he won at Roland Garros, becoming not only the youngest person to win a grand slam (at 17 years and 3 months), but also the first person of Asian heritage to win a Grand Slam singles tournament. Arguably, the most fantastic thing about Chang, was his competitive spirit, and his desire to succeed despite factors conspiring against him. As has been previously mentioned, Chang won the 1989 French Open, and on the way he defeated then World #1 Ivan Lendl against ridiculous odds and sheer physical pain. Check out one of the novel tactics he utilized to break down Lendl. So typically Asian!
However, on a purely social and recreational level, tennis is now especially popular among Asians. This is not necessarily due to increased exposure for the sport in the media, or because of the inroads being made by Asians on the professional stage. There are a few explanations for this occurrence that can be made regardless of those external factors. Firstly, tennis has always had a reputation to be a refined and somewhat sophisticated sport.
Back in the days, tennis would have been referred to as a sport for ‘gentlemen”, if you will. For example, at its most prestigious event, Wimbledon, there still lies a stringent ‘all white” dress code for competitors. Formality is paramount in certain circles of tennis, and hey, doesn’t that sound like a perfect activity for Asians? We have always wanted an excuse to feel elite and cultured, and tennis is a classy sport and provides an outlet there. The only way you could feel more cultured would be if you were to jump on a horse’s back, and play a touch of polo, if you don’t mind.
Also, there is the simple fact that tennis is a racket sport. Oh how Asians are known for their supposed prowess and cunning abilities, especially when it comes to hitting inanimate objects, which therefore includes racket sports in general. Heck, Asians have long been known to excel at miniature tennis (a.k.a. ‘table-tennis”/’ping-pong”/’ping-pang”), so surely that skill should be translated successfully when it comes to the real thing. Or not”¦
“¦Which now leads to the most relevant issue. The general performance of Asians on a professional level in the sport has not been particularly strong. How can tennis be a truly Asian sport if we, well, suck at it? Apart from the aforementioned Michael Chang, and that guy who eventually married the Canadian girl who became Miss Universe (callback to white girls, booyeah!!), there have been very few Asian males to have success in such a Western-dominated sport.
The women’s side is a different story, especially in China, as talented ladies are being churned out one after the other. Look out for names such as Li Na, Zheng Jie & Peng Shuai among others, to continue the progress they’ve made so far. However, this surge has happened only recently, as a decade ago, the Asian women’s outlook would have been even gloomier than the men’s.
So just like in badminton, Asians have been getting their butts handed to them in professional tennis for many a year now. However, with the recent influx of Asian talent in the sport, give it a few years and there’s a good chance that the next Roger Federer or Justine Henin will be an Asian.
P.S. I do know that the guy who married Miss Universe Natalie Glebova is Paradorn Srichapan (right), just thought it’d be better referring to him as ‘that guy who married Miss Universe”, since he’s past his playing peak, and that’s what he’s best known for nowadays. Furthermore, I never really liked Michael Chang during his playing days. I know, how very un-Asian of me! I always preferred ‘Pistol” Pete Sampras. Shows how un-Asian I really am…
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