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Enough with the Sour Grapes
   2015-04-17 16:52:59    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Xie Tingting

By Liu Yan (About the author)

Widely considered "the Oscars of sports", the Laureus World Sports Awards have always been a hot topic around this time of year. And for Chinese sports fans, the 2015 Laureus Awards were extra special, because the ceremony was held in Shanghai and Chinese superstar Li Na was up for Sportswoman of the Year.

It would be a fairy tale ending for the now-retired tennis ace if she won the industry's highest honor right here on her home soil, but alas, she lost to Ethiopian track star Genzebe Dibaba. Li did take home the Exceptional Achievement Award though. Given that Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian in history, was the only previous winner in this special category, we should all be very happy for Li and call it a night. End of story.

Except it wasn't. You see, thanks to Li's phenomenal rise, tennis has become one of the most popular and talked about sports in China. And when it was announced that Novak Djokovic, the current number one male tennis player in the world, won Sportsman of the Year, Chinese fans quickly shifted their attention to this particular result, and what followed could only be described as "all hell breaking loose".

To make sense of the situation, this is what you need to know: Although Djokovic has a big following in China, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are arguably more beloved here. These three share a whopping 39 Grand Slam titles among them and have had a stranglehold on the world number one ranking since 2004. Each one of them can possibly go down in history as "the greatest tennis player of all time". So, forget about "friendship first, competition second". For their fans, it's WAR!!!

If you take a look at some of the comments online, you'd know I'm not exaggerating. The minute Djokovic won Sportsman of the Year, fans of the other two players went into ATTACK mode. The language they used may be too colorful to quote here, but the message is simple and clear: Djokovic doesn't deserve the honor. It's a joke.

Honestly, I didn't think Djokovic would be named Sportsman of the Year either. He did only win one major (Wimbledon) last year. In a sport where the number of Grand Slam titles no doubt carries the most weight, he fell a bit short. But, is the result really a joke? No way.

Lots of Chinese fans considered Cristiano Ronaldo a shoo-in. But remember, he didn't do all that well at the World Cup last year. Plus, soccer is a team sport, and it's always difficult for a soccer player to win an individual sportsman award at the Laureus. Rory McIlroy had a great 2014 with two Grand Slam titles, but he was mired in scandals, and his personal behavior off the court really didn't help with his image. It's just not the right time to put another problematic golfer on a pedestal. Lewis Hamilton was the only other favorite to be named Sportsman of the Year, but he wasn't dominant in 2014, and there's always the consideration that technology plays perhaps an even bigger role than the driver when it comes to motor racing.

So there you go. Comparatively speaking, Djokovic is a solid choice. He is as convincing as any other potential winner, if not more. Too bad some people just refuse to acknowledge that, and have to put a great athlete down just to make themselves feel better.

What I particularly can't stand is this doozy of an argument: Nadal won two Grand Slam titles in 2008 (French Open and Wimbledon) as well as the Olympic gold medal, and he still didn't win Sportsman of the Year in 2009. Look what happened this year. Obviously, Djokovic pulled some strings. He's not nicknamed "China's adopted son" for no reason.

The logic there is so ridiculous I almost want to shout at the top of my lungs: Do some research and find out who can actually vote before you throw shady accusations around, damn it!

But since I'm trying to make a point here, I will acknowledge that in terms of absolute achievements on the court, Djokovic's 2014 wasn't as impressive as Nadal's 2008, and it's a shame that Nadal didn't win the award in 2009. However, 2008 was the Olympic year, and when you have candidates like Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps who were breaking world records left and right, of course Nadal didn't stand a chance. But that doesn't mean Djokovic shouldn't have won the honor this year. It only means 2008 was a particularly impressive year for sports.

I understand fans always want their idols to win everything, especially the biggest industry awards. That's the very definition of fandom. But after all is said and done, why can't we show some basic respect for the winners who are not our idols? Why do we have to turn something that's supposed to be positive, empowering and beautiful into something that's negative, disheartening and ugly? Does everything really have to be a petty fight about who's the best? So what if your idol is the greatest of all time? Does that make you a better person?

In all fairness, I should make it clear that I'm an unabashed Djokovic fan and have been following his career for almost a decade. He was extremely dominant in 2011, so his Laureus victory in 2012 hardly raised any eyebrows. Last year, he was nowhere near 2011 in terms of domination, but I think he was even more inspirational and therefore a better fit for the Laureus award. After all, Sportsman of the Year should first and foremost be the epitome of sportsmanship. That? Djokovic had in spades.

Before the 2014 Wimbledon, he had gone a year and a half without a Grand Slam title and lost five out of six Grand Slam finals. Anyone who knows a thing or two about professional tennis should be able to tell you how devastating that is. Yet Djokovic had the ultimate redemption story when he defeated Federer for the Wimbledon title in an epic five-setter, and consequently regained the world number one ranking. His sheer tenacity and never-say-die attitude left even casual viewers in tears. And of course, he also got married and became a father last year. In addition, he did amazing work with his charity foundation. It was extraordinary, miraculous even, to achieve that kind of work-life balance.

Now, I would be the first to admit Federer and Nadal are still way ahead of Djokovic in terms of overall career achievements, but as far as the 2015 Laureus is concerned, Djokovic is the winner and he won fair and square. So enough with the sour grapes. Just be happy that we are living in an era where three of the best tennis players in history are all in action.

Allow me to quote part of Djokovic's acceptance speech here: Sport has inspired and motivated many of us, it is the language we all understand and love. Sport often encourages children to exercise and dream. Competition is not only to win trophies and medals, it's a form of personal empowerment that helps individuals reach their full potential and also results in better societies as a whole.

Hopefully all of us will keep this great message in mind, especially the last sentence.

About the Author

Liu Yan is a best-selling author specializing in English learning and popular culture. Among his published works are English - The Real Deal (1 & 2) and Hold On, Sit Tight, Let's Enjoy This Cinematic Ride Together. He is also a long-time columnist for such esteemed magazines as English Language Learning and JoyRide English. In addition, Liu Yan is a commentator on social and cultural issues. He wants people to think of him as a trusted friend who can inform, educate and entertain all at the same time.

The opinions expressed here are only personal, and do not necessarily represent CRI's official policy.

Read all opinion stories by Liu Yan



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