Friday, May 29, 2009

Perseverance and Faith - 20 years ago in history

In one dawn 20 years ago, with tanks and soldiers rolling over Beijing's Tiananman Square, crushing the bones and flesh of innocent students and other protesters (as well as our hearts), history was forever changed. We all witnessed first-hand a defining historical moment that has been haunting us even to this date; and little did we know at that time, this bloody event turned a new worldwide tide against despotism and tyranny regimes, and a few months later, Berlin Wall - the symbol of oppression of freedom, fell, for once and for all, and the world was never the same.

Just when we were still consumed by all the horror news coming from Beijing in June 1989, another chapter of history quietly unfolded a few days later, not in Beijing but in Paris; not on a public square but on a red-clay tennis court; not by a troop of cold-blooded soldiers and political leaders but by one young man, not of a cowardly oppression but a David-vs-Goliath triumph. Michael Chang, 17 years old at that time and merely 5'9" tall, against all odds, has won the French open men's singles, defeating hot favorites Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg along his way. With the stunning victory, he became the youngest Grand Slam male champion (a record still holds to date), the first ethnic Chinese to win a Grand Slam tournament, and the first American to win the French Open since 1955. Every cloud has a silver lining.

The highlight of his road to the championship is certainly the match he played against Ivan Lendl in the 4th Round - trailing two sets to none and in obvious pain in his knees because of cramps, he crawled back one set at a time and won the next three. Many - me included - would probably still vividly remember his cute underhand serve which caught Lendl by surprise and the double-fault that Ivan Lendl made which ended the match (apparently Michael distracted him by making an awkward stance in the middle of the court and forced him to hit the ball well long as a result) That game remained one of the longest in French Open history (4 hours 37 minutes) and one true classic sporting moment.

Michael Chang went on to become one of the greatest tennis players in the world, reaching Grand Slam finals three more times (French Open in 1995, Australian and US Open in 1996), and ranked number 2 at one point. He's a crowd favorite in Hong Kong in the 1990s - mostly because of his charming look - and he repaid us by winning the tournament here (then called Salem Open) three times - more than anyone else. I remember going to watch him play in Victoria Park one year (when he lost in the semis), keeping an autographed match programme as a treasured memento, and wearing his Reebok sneakers proudly on the street when I was young. Who knows how many other local kids picked up their tennis racquets for the first time because of his influences. He's one of the first Asian atheletes who gained worldwide success and fame, and in a sense, paved way for many others to follow soon afterwards.

Well, Michael's story is about perseverance, confidence, hard work, never-say-die spirit, joyful attitude and faith. He dedicated his victory and success to God, and he testified that during his course to the French Open triumph, many times he considered quitting and it's Jesus who urged him to stay on. He shared with us the power of prayers and that he will pray before every match, not for beating his opponents, but for his actions and words be used to glorify God. Overcoming his height (and reach) constraints, he always run around on the court, going after every balls, hitting those "impossible" shots which others would have long given up on. He's always been a model athelete, and never been in any kind of trouble or scandal, which is a rare commodity these days. His professional career outlasted many of his peers (including Pete Sampras and Jim Courier) and after retirement, he continued to be an inspirational figure on and off the court, running tennis camps and sharing his story with others around the world, using every opportunity he has to draw people to Jesus and Christianity.

Just as this month we remember what happened 20 years ago in Tiananman Square and vow to persist until freedom and democracy are upheld in China, let us also remember and reflect upon the historical triumph of Michael, and be inspired once again by his perseverance and the faith in the Lord.


沙律 said...

if you listen to the longer version of his testimony...he would share why he thinks god let him win in 1989...and that was to put a smile on every chinese' face during a time when every chinese was heart-broken...

gary s said...

but this particular clip definitely appealed to a wider audience, esp it's originally shown as a feature on ESPN's sportscenter.


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