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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Jan 5, 2011

1/5/2011 3:00:00 PM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Archive |

It’s that old story: David meets Goliath, Goliath kicks David’s ass, David goes through training montage set to 80’s pop-synth music, David triumphs over Goliath, David and audience are swept away in a sea of tears and bad sequels.

We FLOVE this story. We ARE this story. Or at least we hope to be. We’re all midgets in a world of giants and once, just once, we want to have our day in the sun.  Which is why, when that day is robbed from someone, it pisses me off. Case in point, Peng Shuai. (Wait, a column about Peng Shuai? Was Anabel Medina Garrigues unavailable?)

Peng doing her David impersonation

Yesterday, Peng (or Shuai Shuai, as she likes me to call her – okay that’s a lie) faced off against a woman she’d never beaten before, 2-time Grand Slam champ Svetlana Kuznetsova. Like last night’s enchilada dinner, history looked to be repeating itself as Sveta took the first set and appeared to be in control. But Peng hung in there, not wanting to, in her words, lose too fast. By sheer force of will and one unbelievable final game, the vet finally (finally!) beat her. Peng was clearly overjoyed (and out of breath) by what she’d been able to achieve. Her reward? People immediately grousing, ugh, Kuznetsova lost again. Kuznetsova choked. Kuznetsova’s a shell of her former self.

Basically, Peng was turned into a footnote.

I call BS.

Was Kuznetsova playing her French Open-winning A-game? No. Was she stinking up the joint? Absolutely not. Peng earned that win, and yet she was dismissed, treated as if she just happened to be on the other side of the net that day. What luck! It burns me. It burns me when someone is denied their due simply because they’re lower-ranked.

Peng wasn’t the only one who got shrugged off this week. Benjamin Becker might as well have not been on court at all v. upset victim Fernando Verdasco in Brisbane. Yanina Wickmayer? Her win against Dinara Safina had everything to do with Dinara and absolutely nothing to do with her. Marin Cilic is a disaster, losing to Kei Nishikori in Chennai. Forget the fact that A) no one should ever dismiss Kei Nishikori and B) Kei already beat Marin at the US Open! But hey, fluke.

Last year, Roger Federer famously lost matches against Marcos Baghdatis, Tomas Berdych and Gael Monfils while holding match point. That became the big story. The match points!  Forget how Marcos, Tomas and Gael played. Again, was Fed playing his A game? Maybe not. Did he give them some chances? Sure. But that’s tennis. And in none of those matches did he play poorly (as evidenced by reaching match point to begin with).

Some would argue that you need to back up the big win to validate it. NOT A CHANCE. A match is just that, a best of 3 or best of 5. That’s all you’re responsible for. Did Janko Tipsarevic not blow Andy Roddick off Arthur Ashe last year simply because he lost to Monfils in the next round? Of course not. Ditto Yen-Hsun Lu over Roddick at Wimbledon. Regarded by many as the upset of the year, anyone who saw that match knows Lu was on fire and earned it. Those who didn’t scoffed, “wow how the mighty have fallen.”

The fact that this column is about Peng Shuai is the point. We all know her, sorta. But her poster isn’t on any of our walls. She’s not even the second most popular player in China. She’s brilliant yet wildly inconsistent, bordering on journeywoman. But she’s out there week in and week out, fighting for her moment in the sun. Making it all the more valuable when it finally arrives, and all the more shameful when it’s taken away. David didn’t beat Goliath, Goliath tripped on his own shoelaces and fell.

BS.

Part of the blame rests in the hands of the fans who live and die by their faves.  It’s much easier to believe our guy had an off day than to accept he got straight-up beat.  Some blame rests with the media, eager to take down the big guy themselves. And some blame can also be laid at the feet of people who mouth off without even having watched the match.  And some people are just mean and nasty and need to be destroyed.

But think of the disservice you’re doing to those underdogs we sports fans love and identify with so much.

The truth is, we do our favorites just as big a disservice by dismissing the achievement of their opponents.  Because what we’re really saying is, some hack beat our guy.  And one would hope it takes a little something special to do that, no? Respecting the opponent is respecting both players. And to those who didn’t tune in, how can you comment on the quality of the victory when you didn’t even see it? If we weren’t there, if we didn’t witness it, maybe a good rule of thumb is to shut our yaps.

There will still be fans out there who will try to deny David their due. So this is for all the Peng Shuai’s of the world. The Benjamin Beckers, the Sybille Bammers, the Olivier Rochuses, the Guillermo Garcia-Lopezes, the Beatrice Capras, the Lucie Safarovas, the Rendy Lus and all the other lower-ranked players out there who step up and play the match of their lives: Goliath didn’t just trip and fall, you knocked him on his ass.  And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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Follow James at twitter.com/JamesLaRosa.