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Zhang Shuai vs The Bad Sportsmanship at The Budapest Open

Anyone that watches tennis knows the name Zhang Shuai, massively adored by not only the fans but players alike on the WTA Tour. The world number 28 first turned pro in August 2003 and has been on the circuit for almost two whole decades -- almost the same amount of time that her opponent has been alive.


Shuai is a two-time doubles grand slam champion, having won the 2019 Australian Open and the 2021 US Open with Australian Sam Stosur. Not only this, but she also has three singles titles, most recently the 2022 Lyon Open.


In a Round of 32 match-up at the Budapest Open in Hungary, the 34-year-old faced 20-year-old Hungarian Amarissa Kiara Tóth who was born in February 2003; all was running smoothly in the first set until an incident occurred when the set was tied 5-5 (15-15). At such an integral point in the first set, there was an incorrect line call against a Zhang Shuai crosscourt groundstroke which landed on the line -- comfortably.


Despite disputing this incorrect call from both the line judge and the umpire with them, the match would go on to continue, for only one single point before the issue was rightly returned to. After the point had been incorrectly awarded to Tóth, you can audibly hear the crowds booing, mocking, and taunting the Chinese athlete, who was seemingly becoming more distressed with every passing moment. Tóth was seen on camera laughing as somebody in the crowd yelled "time violation."


The final point of the match was won by Shuai, before the camera pans to Tóth who is seen walking up to the mark left on the line that was the centrepoint of the controversy and very intentfully erasing it with her foot. In the background, you can hear Shuai saying, "Wait, wait, wait, keep the mark! What are you doing? Why would you do that?"


Clips of this incident have gone viral on different social media platforms, but this Twitter thread takes you through the incident; the point leading up to it and Shuai's eventual retirement from the match:



 

In response to Shuai's question of why she would do such a thing, the young Hungarian replied, "Because you're making problems, that's why."


Tóth then went on to win the game and lead the set 6-5, with Shuai Zhang becoming increasingly more distressed during the changeover. It was at this point that the tournament physio was brought onto the court to ensure that she was okay. The world number 28 made the decision to retire from the match, some even citing that she had suffered from a panic attack although this has not been confirmed. Tennis TV commentators remarked on how the Chinese athlete was "in floods of tears." at the controversial line call, but also the blatant disrespect that she received from not only her opponent but the umpire and also the unruly crowd.


Despite everything that she had been through in this short-lived match, the way she carried herself on the court showed a testament to her character and most importantly, who she is as a human being.


Even with all the unfair treatment she was subjected to, Shuai still shook hands with both the umpire and Tóth after she had retired from the match; showing that her class knows no bounds. Even with her opponent visibly upset, Tóth still celebrated and threw her hands in the air as she was applauded for her "victory."


Both players involved in this match and many various tennis players from both the WTA and ATP tours have taken to social media to give their opinions on the events that unfolded on July 18th.



In an interview with a local Hungarian radio station Kossuth, Tóth seemed completely and utterly remorseful for what she had done. She commented:


"I didn't understand why she made such a fuss about it, that she wanted to overrule the umpire's decision," as well as "I don't understand why she didn't accept it, all in all, it was she who was looking for trouble."

Tennis superstars reached out on social media, rallying around Zhang Shuai. Martina Navratilova, nine-time Wimbledon champion, took to Twitter to air her support for Shuai - tweeting,


"Pathetic from any angle- umpire is not fit to call clay court matches and Toth is a bad sport."


Here are some more tweets from other tennis players who condemned the actions of Tóth:






 

Zhang Shuai has always been very open about her mental health, speaking very candidly at this year's edition of Wimbledon about grief and dealing with the loss of her grandparents recently.


"After my grandparents passed away, I started thinking about the meaning of life. I am 34 and I’ve played tennis for 29 years. I’ve tried my best but everyone has their limit. I feel deeply tired, especially mentally. I miss Chinese food in China," said Shuai.


On the other hand, Tóth has been labeled in the media as 'the most hated woman in tennis' in a few different tabloids, with players and fans alike on social media have called for both Tóth and the umpire to face some sort of retribution for the incident - such as a fine, suspension or even a ban from the tour. At this moment, Tóth is continuing in the Budapest Open and faces Ukrainian Kateryna Baindl in the Round of 16 tomorrow.


Something that stuck with me was Australian tennis player Daria Saville's sentiment that although Tóth "won" the point and "won" the match, she was involved in a greater loss and that was losing the respect of her peers and ruining her reputation at such a young age due to her bad sportsmanship and disrespectful behavior.


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