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Grand Slam doubles champ controversy reflects Taiwan's psyche

Last week Chan Yung-jan became Taiwan's first tennis player to win a trophy at the U.S. Open and the second ever Grand Slam winner after she and her partner, the legendary Martina Hingis, won the women's doubles title.

With skills compared by Hingis to that of a "ninja warrior", photogenic and enjoying a warm relationship with the mainstream media, Chan has all the potentials for sports superstardom in Taiwan. Yet instead of being lauded as a "Light of Taiwan" — as Taiwanese high achievers in the international arena are routinely called — for the victory, she is now facing the biggest PR crisis in her life.

The day before Chan flew to America for the Open, she pulled out of the mixed doubles semi-finals at the Taipei 2017 Universiade, the biggest sports event Taiwan has ever hold, after winning gold in both women's singles and doubles, citing a physical condition. Her mixed doubles partner, Hsieh Cheng-peng, had to forfeit the match.

Hsieh's sister, Taiwan's other Grand Slam doubles champion and former world women's doubles No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei, slammed Chan on Facebook for abandoning her brother. The post triggered a sea of criticism against Chan, who many began to suspect to have used physical condition as an excuse to bail out of the Universiade in order to compete in the U.S. Open.

After clinching the U.S. Open title, Chan issued a statement on Sept. 10 apologizing to Hsieh and to Taiwanese sports fans but insisted she did not expect to drop out but was surprised by her physical condition.

Instead of cooling down the situation, Chan's statement seemed to have prompted even more criticisms. After weeks of silence, Hsieh Cheng-peng spoke up, accusing Chan of putting her weight to secure her place in the mixed doubles even though she was aware of the potential schedule conflict. He also alleged Chan of faking her illness and of asking him to play along with her lies.

It is highly unusual for an accomplished Taiwanese athlete such as Chan to face such an onslaught of criticisms, even if the public believed she had dropped out on propose. The Taiwanese people have long held high regards for their compatriots who do well in the international matches. They are seen as national heroes earning much-needed international recognitions for Taiwan. The public retained their support of the "Lights of Taiwan" though scandals such as extramarital affairs, performance slums and even involvement in game rigging. But one thing the Taiwanese public dislike more than they admire international winners is bullying, especially when it comes at the expense of the little guy.

It is the two sides of the same coin. Sports exploits provide an alternative route to global exposure and national pride for the diplomatically challenged Taiwan. The same restriction in the international community is also the reason many in Taiwan hold a special affinity to the underprivileged.

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