Sunday, June 5, 2011

Thank you, Arthur Ashe.

It was 2nd grade in Ms. Penfold's class, and she had just assigned to us our first written assignment. At the time, I still had trouble with English but thanks to my childhood best friend, David Rosen, he asked our teacher if we could do the assignment together. It was a short assignment -- a 100 word biographical blurb plus illustration on anyone we wish. David picked Arthur Ashe. It was a name that I would never forget because I think that was the only thing I learned in 2nd grade. David went on to write a masterpiece of an essay and gave me the easy route of drawing Mr. Ashe. My finish product was something of a mix of Garry Coleman (RIP), Squanto, and a cabbage patch kid, but this isn't about my artistic abilities. It was this assignment that would open the doors of my sports world to tennis.

As an Asian-American, I would consider myself more Asian than American. In fact, I've been known to have alot of Chinese pride. So when Li Na won the French Open today becoming the first Chinese-born to ever win a Grand Slam, I can confidently say that I celebrated the victory with 1.3 billion other people.

The effects of this victory on China is huge largely due to the fact that Li is one of the first athletes from China to follow a different contract policy. All athletes in China have to give a large portion of their earnings back to the government because the government supervises and pays for all their training, coaching, expenses, etc. But Li was under a new policy where she gets to keep more of her earnings but had to figure out everything on her own. Her victory will resonate to many of the athletes in China now, and many Chinese nationals are looking at this as another step towards total government reform. Though honestly, anything that happens where the Chinese government is deemed the "loser" is a step towards reform.

In my belief, this victory is HUGE. Since Michael Chang won his one and only Grand Slam at the French Open in '89, we have not had an Asian winner in tennis. If you don't know anything about that French Open, then you owe it to yourself to watch the clip below.

Chang took down the Goliath of men's tennis at the time with a leg cramp (and an underhand serve!) in the semis, and then go on to win the Grand Slam becoming the youngest ever to do it at 17! Though Chang was born in America, the ripple effect of his victory in China (and even in the US with more Asians interested in playing the sport) is tremendous. A part of me believes that Michael Chang had some effect on Li Na's decision to become a professional tennis player.

So why thank Arthur Ashe? I hope in the time that you've been reading this, you've been secretly wikipedia-ing everything I wrote and learned about Arthur Ashe. Becoming the first ever African-American to win a tennis grand slam, he paved the way for many others including Li Na. He's no Jackie Robinson, but his victory at the US Open of '68 could not of timed more perfectly with the civil rights movement in America at the time. So thank you for paving the way. Thanks for opening the doors to many other nations to play tennis. And just like your victory helped to change a nation's laws of racism and prejudice, I hope that Li Na's victory will be an agent of change for China.


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