Teams considered to be the best in the world by the Laureus Academy over the past decade have included FC Barcelona, the European Ryder Cup team and China’s Olympic squad.
But you would be hard pushed to find a more dominant team in world sport right now than the women’s doubles partnership of China’s Peng Shuai and Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei. In winning the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells last weekend, the pair moved to 11-0 in finals. I’ve searched high and low to find some comparable dominance – in tennis and elsewhere – and I’m still looking.
As expected, Sunday February 9 provided little in the way of Chinese cheer: in cross-country, Xu Wenlong finished 59th (out of 68) in the men’s skiathlon,
while biathletes Zhang Yan, Tang Jialin, Song Chaoqing and Song Na finished 49th, 55th, 63rd and 83rd (out of 84) respectively. Song Na missed a team-high four targets in total, and, at 18, clearly hasn’t realized that if you’re going to have rock star hairstyle, you’d better be ready to play in the big leagues.
Li Na cruised through to the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday with a 6-0, 7-6 win over Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic, while Zheng Jie had a tougher battle, eventually downing American Madison Keys 7-6,1-6, 7-5. But for all the talk about China’s new generation of tennis players (here and elsewhere), Li and Zheng were the only two to make it out of the first round – from the eight who made the main draw.
Despite taking the first set 6-2, Li Na lost the final of the WTA Championships in Istanbul (the last before the end-of-season showpiece moves to Singapore next year), as world number one Serena Williams won the next two sets 6-3, 6-0. It was Serena’s 11th title of the year, and her 10th win in 11 games against Li Na, but after going into the game as a massive underdog, Li can be happy she at least forced a third set. Crucially, she now moves up to 3rd in the world rankings – a career high – by leapfrogging both Maria Sharapova and Agnieszka Radwanska.
Guan Tianlang, the 14-year-old kid who made the cut at the Masters, might be China’s most famous golfer, but Feng Shanshan is undoubtedly China’s best golfer right now (or ever, for that matter). She won the 2012 LPGA Championship to become the country’s first golfer – male or female – to win a major. More than a year later she is finally getting some recognition at home.
Japan is having a very, very good time on the Olympic stage right now. Firstly, Tokyo won the right to host the 2020 Olympics. They had always been the favorite, but had to allay growing fears that Fukushima’s ongoing nuclear nightmare would not have any long-lasting effects for the country (though, in truth, they may have been helped more by a combination of Spain’s dreadful employment record and Turkey’s heavy-handed government). It also means Asia will host back-to-back Olympic Games, following Pyeongchang in 2018.
Secondly, wrestling has been reinstated into the Olympic schedule. Much has changed since February when wrestling looked set to lose out, but Japan will benefit hugely from this. Not only do they sit fourth in the all-time medal table for Olympic wrestling (third if you take out the now-defunct Soviet team), but they won four gold medals in London last year, a total matched only by Russia.
The big news from the tennis world this weekend was not, of course, Andy Murray becoming Britain’s first winner of the men’s Wimbledon title for 77 years, but China’s Peng Shuai teaming up with Hsieh Su-wei from Taiwan to win the women’s doubles title. Taiwanese media pointed out that President Ma Ying-jeou, Vice President Wu Den-yih, Premier Jiang Yi-huah and Minister of Education Chiang Wei-ling all sent Hsieh congratulatory telegrams (telegrams?? in 2013??).
Manny Ramirez’s 49-game cameo playing baseball for the EDA Rhinos in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, has been one of the most surprising and entertaining sports stories of the year in Asia. Every move – and I mean every – has been documented in great detail by Canadian Brandon DuBreuil, a long-time Taiwan resident with a passion for baseball, in his blog Manny Does Taiwan. Sadly for Brandon, us and especially the people of Taiwan, Manny has decided to take his talents elsewhere, though as of publication, he has yet to find another team. Here’s an interview with Brandon, detailing the three months spent covering Manny’s time in Taiwan.
Manny Ramirez left Taiwan last week, one week short of completing his initial three-month contract with the EDA Rhinos in the CPBL, ostensibly because he “wanted to spend more time with his family.” While quite possibly true, no one was buying that as the main reason: reports soon linked him to Japan – though nothing has so far materialized – and now his agent has says he’s keen to return to the big leagues i.e. MLB.