Victoria Azarenka, the world number 1 in women’s tennis, was up against Li Na, the world number 6. Azarenka is in her prime at twenty-three years old, while Li Na is already getting long in the tooth by tennis standards at the ripe old age of thirty. Azarenka came into the match with a clean bill of health, while Li Na had one knee taped. There was no doubt about who was expected to win.
Li Na is well known for her down-to-earth attitude and sense of humour. Azarenka is now well known for what was publically perceived as bad gamesmanship in her semi-final match. There was no doubt about who was the crowd favourite.
Despite a shaky start, Li Na managed to win the first set in the best of three. The crowd was cheering and all of my family, gathered around the TV, were ecstatic. Even my mum, who’d never shown much interest in tennis before, was watching with her hands pressed to her cheeks.
But then Li Na fell behind in the second set. And it got worse–while she was behind, she mis-stepped and twisted her ankle. There were audible groans from the audience, while in the peanut gallery at home, my mum’s hands migrated upwards to cover her eyes. Li Na had her ankle taped, then continued the match. There was still a spring in her step, and though she lost the set, there was no doubt she was going to fight to the end.
She took the lead in the third set, and there was a palpable hope from everyone that perhaps there could be an upset. Perhaps a thirty year old injured sixth seed could defeat the person currently acknowledged as the best female player in the world.
Perhaps there would be a miracle tonight.
Just as Li Na pulled into the lead, the unthinkable happened. Her injured ankle gave way again. There was replay after replay of the moment–the sickening twist of the wrapped ankle as she landed, her subsequent tumble, and the nasty bounce as her head hit the ground. She lay there clutching her leg, and my heart sank. I, and probably everyone else watching, was certain it was the end of the match.
We were wrong.
Ten minutes later, a determined Li Na walked back onto the court yet again. The cheers in the arena–and in my house–were deafening. Though it was clear her movement was more restricted, she still managed to get off some incredible shots. Hope was still alive, as she fought to keep even, and succeeded in the next few games. But despite her valiant effort, she fell behind, and couldn’t claw her way back.
This time, the underdog didn’t win the match. The odds against her were simply too high. But with the power of both players’ personal stories, she most definitely won the crowd, both those at the arena and the millions watching all over the world.
Narrative turned the underdog into the hero, the loser into the winner. It made people hope against all odds, against their better judgement. Even when hope failed, they still remember the journey taken.
For who was the true winner that night? The one holding the cup… or the one holding everyone’s hearts?
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on her second young adult novel. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and a journal chronicling her latest foray into novel writing.