More than 20 people scrambled around outside the court after the final point, some yelling the words “Love her.” And then, all of a sudden, they were looking at a blank screen. Nobody seemed to know what they had missed.
The moment hit Peng Shuai, as she sat in the players’ box, clearly wondering how and why it had happened. It would have been hard to convey the frustration and confusion: the moment when a Chinese crowd, whose anti-Serena fans seemed to have followed her all the way to Guangzhou, and now was having to do without its favorite player.
Peng’s coach, Zheng Jie, sat along with the fans, staring at the screen and talking to her player. “You’re going to get out of here,” she told Peng. “We’ll find out what happened now.”
In China, authorities typically shut down discussion of sports before and after an event, placing content in a distinct black zone. In the United States, star athletes are able to speak up and speak their minds. In China, they are often banned.
China has no definition of free speech. And athletes have increasingly been criticized for their comments about politics, partly because of restrictions on criticism of the ruling Communist Party and partly because their opinions can affect public opinion.
But people on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, were not afraid to express their disappointment. Commentators heaped praise on Peng for her courage, and many said they hoped that she might at least try to improve the Beijing Olympics in 2022.
In Peng’s case, fans’ questions appeared to have gotten the better of them. At the end of the first set, Peng smashed a ball into the stands, and it flew into the back row. The chair umpire told her: “We cannot control that. You know, where is the ball?”
Then, as the score from the first set was displayed on the monitor, Peng turned to the court and said: “Where is the ball? That means I’m not going to come back after the break.” Then she walked off court.
At first, the crowd didn’t know what to make of it. They were perplexed and then cheered.
“That’s a good thing, because she’s too emotional for us,” said Zhang Hao, 42, a performance manager at a rural clothing company. Zhang sat on a street corner holding a small Tibetan flag. She was wearing her prize from a tournament in Nanjing that ended only minutes before the court incident.
The crowd began to make its way to the finish line. Some assumed Peng had won the set. But then, several hours after the match started, a voice on the screen said: “The court is closed for maintenance. Refreshed.”
Then, a second announcement: “We apologize for this, but there’s no information as to what happened. We’ll communicate with you.”
Li Wang, a well-known television personality in China, shot an angry video of the scene, which she posted on Weibo. She announced that the post would be deleted unless she got the answers she was looking for from the court. Eventually, Li reached someone who had the answers.
“What happened?” Li Wang asked.
There were murmurs in the audience. Someone finally piped up. “Gangliansu?” said the person in the background. “Where is *?”
And then, no further details. “Sorry,” said the person who was behind the camera.
“See you later,” Li Wang said.
— (c) 2016, The Washington Post.