Peng Shuai a Nonperson at Australian Open - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Peng Shuai a Nonperson at Australian Open

There is an Irish song much beloved in Australia that tells of a young man in Ireland who steals some corn and is sentenced to a penal colony in Australia but keeps hope alive because he is in love and thinks of the freedom to grow up in dignity that he believes his child, if not he, will live to enjoy.

You would think the Australians would be a freedom-loving people, and you would be right. They have the straight-shooting, straight-talking, upstanding virtues that go with life in a free society, and the characters, and the personalities, all caveats about abusive generalizations aside, that go with such a blessed inheritance.

Odd way to begin a sports column, I admit; and let me mention right off the racquet that it has been, even at a distance, as fine a week of tennis as first weeks at Grand Slam events — called majors — always are, with hopes raised and dashed but never defeated. Even if you lose in the first rounds of a major, it is a major, and you know you can do something very few other people can. You know you can try again and do better.

But what is gained by telling people they must conform to a dress code that has nothing to do with proper attire and all to do with conformism and fear? Have the Aussies become fearful of angering the Red Chinese?

That is the lesson, for example, of two of Australia’s most attractive — nice, pleasant, good sports — tennis players, Matthew Ebden and Samantha Stosur, who have been here many times and perhaps have fallen short of their own hopes. Miss Stosur won the U.S. Open once and several doubles, including last year’s U.S. Open, and mixed doubles, and Matthew Ebden has won here in mixed; they paired this year in the mixed draw, reached the third round and lost to Aussie mates of theirs. And there it is — well, the beauty of it all, to believe even when you have got to the top that you could be there more.

Jessica Pegula, Buffalo’s most famous athlete since Jack Kemp, keeps getting better and she goes up later today (in Australia, meaning tomorrow, Monday, here) against the tournament favorite Ashleigh Barty now that defending champ Naomi Osaka is out. Miss Barty beat Miss Pegula last year, and two days ago easily disposed of the young American phenom Amanda Anisimova in the third round, after the Jerseyan had beaten Miss Osaka with mental toughness as much as her well aimed forehands and flying volleys. So it will be a big match for Miss Pegula, whose favorite Bills are in Kansas City in the AFC playoffs even as these lines are written.

Sports inspire even as they entertain, and so it is disconcerting that the year’s first major, especially with the presence of happy and cheering crowds after last year’s silent empty bleachers, should find itself marred by the kind of thing you might expect in Romania under Ceausescu or China under Xi Jinping, namely a peremptory order by the officials to immediately get rid of a T-shirt inscribed “Where is Peng?”

Peng Shuai is a Chinese tennis star who a few years ago attained the no. 1 ranking in doubles and was up there in the lower teens in singles. Since last November, when she publicly accused a Communist Party big of sexual assault, her safety and whereabouts have been a source of concern, to the degree that the WTA, the women’s tennis association, announced it would suspend the Chinese leg of the tour until assured of its member’s well-being.

Unlike the International Olympic Committee, which took a nothing-to-worry-about position (tennis is an Olympic sport), or the NBA and many of its sponsoring corporations, which, as Larry Thornberry recently noted here, view China — we are talking about mainland, Communist-ruled China, of course, not Free China (Taiwan) or the Chinese diaspora (Singapore, New York, and other places) — as a lucrative market.

That it is, and reasonable men — and women — can disagree about the correct attitude private entities in free societies should take toward oppressive regimes. Should Jesse Owens have boycotted the 1936 Olympics, as the NAACP urged him to before it encouraged him to go and win gold? Should American athletes have boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics because President Jimmy Carter, watching aghast as the Red Army invaded Afghanistan, suddenly decided there was cause to have an ordinate fear of communism?

These are serious matters, and there will be debates around them in a fortnight or so when the Beijing Winter Olympic Games formally commence. The Chicoms already have indicated they will tolerate no political signaling or speaking during the competitions and also they will be strip searching the athletes for indications they might be carrying the bug they themselves exported to the world in November 2019.

But what is gained by telling people they must conform to a dress code that has nothing to do with proper attire and all to do with conformism and fear? Have the Aussies become fearful of angering the Red Chinese? The Biden administration better hurry up and bring them the nuclear-powered subs they signed contracts to buy.

Many sports and other public events discourage and sometimes formally forbid displays and demonstrations that would distract the competitors or their fans. That is a matter of common sense and courtesy. What is not clear is how sitting in the bleachers wearing a Free Peng t-shirt gets in anyone’s way. If the t-shirt wearers stripped all their other clothes off and ran on to the court yelling “Free Peng!” there might be a rationale for asking them to cut it out and behave, but sitting in the bleachers?

Tennis Australia — their USTA — having made morons of themselves by urging the No. 1 player in the world to not worry about being unvaccinated and then watching the government deport him like an illegal immigrant, now seems determined to double down on cretinism and tell tennis fans not to say the name of one of tennis’s great contemporary lady competitors because it might annoy the commies.

The USTA allowed the social-justice-message masks Naomi Osaka wore at the 2020 U.S. Open (which she won), though they might have annoyed some. Miss Osaka appreciates the free speech she enjoys, and is one of the players who has forcefully demanded accounts of the Chicoms on Peng Shuai. Would Tennis Australia ban her words?

Well, it is nice to see that Jessica Pegula in the quarters again, she is one of the most improved American players of the last few years. She won the Washington Open a year or two ago, beat the lovely and aggressive Maria Sakkari in the previous round. Miss Sakkari’s compatriot Stefan Tsitsipas is the best male Greek player since Taki Theodoracopulos, who has advised me to hit harder backhand returns of serve.

Jessica Pegula and Ash Barty will be playing even as you read this, or will be warming up, or will already have met, same round same place as last year, Rod Laver Arena. Let the better lass win. It should be a happy moment, whatever the result, but there will be murmur in the air, one Australians will recognize.

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing we had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ’round the fields of Athenry

UPDATE: It appeared the Bills had it thanks to a sensational drive led by QB Josh Allen in the final minute, but they scored a few seconds too soon on a sensational passing play and with time running out the ace KC kicker, Harrison Butker, put one in from nearly 50 yards, which has got to make you wonder why in Euro football they miss their shots to the goal so often — American exceptionalism? — and with the score tied at 36, Patrick Mahomes II, the conference’s best QB after Tom Brady (whose offensive defense did a poor job defending him a few hours earlier, dashing his hopes for a defense of the Super Bowl), went on a sensational drive in OT and scored on a TD pass inside the Buffalo ten yard line. It was fantastic, as thrilling as the mighty Brady’s final seconds drive against Carolina in 2004 or his fantastic OT drive against Atlanta thirteen — 13, folks — years later. Miss Pegula was devastated even as she was thrilled with all of us, seeing these American boys in such top form. The question is: will she recover, will she be lusting for revenge, will — can — she beat  world No. 1 girl Ashleigh Barty? Stay tuned.

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