Peng Shuai: Ex doubles partner says fan love for tennis star is ‘different level’

Peng Shuai

For the first time since Peng Shuai suspiciously withdrew from the public eye, a colleague has agreed to speak to the media about the situation.

Former doubles partner Andrea Sestini Hlavackova is the first player close to the tennis star to be interviewed since Peng made sexual assault allegations against China's former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.

The 35-year-old was filmed at two social events last weekend and also appeared on a video call with the International Olympic Committee chairman — but concerns over her wellbeing continue to build.

Peng made the allegations against Gaoli on Chinese social media site Weibo. But after publishing, the platform removed the post and blocked searches for Peng's name and even the word 'tennis'. 

Following this, the former doubles world number one was not seen out in public for a period of time and questions were raised over her whereabouts and wellbeing.

Peng's video call appearance, which alleged weekend socialising, and a letter purportedly written by her to WTA Chairman Steve Simon, have not been enough to satisfy colleagues and supporters of her safety. 

Peng Shuai

"The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe," the letter read. "I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me."

This has raised concerns within the WTA and Simon has declared it as "insufficient" evidence to prove Peng is safe and well.

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka have since joined the online campaign #WhereIsPengShuai.

"As you may know, I had a hard time getting a visa here, so I’m not focusing on other stuff," Peng's ex doubles partner Hlavackova said. "I hope she’s okay."

The Czech star then reflected on her time partnering Peng on the court and recalled the level of adoration she received from fans when playing on her home soil.

"One of my first experiences in China was in Wuhan playing with her. Usually for the Chinese tournaments it’s tough to feel the energy [from the crowd], but the first time we walked on court, the stands were full and they were really loving her. It was a different level."

Andrea Hlavackova and Peng Shuai

Hlavackova then described Peng's dedication to her game as "incredible." Indeed, the Chinese trailblazer has won 25 professional titles in singles and doubles and represented her country at three Olympic Games. She is also the first ever Chinese tennis player to earn doubles world number one status.

Her accumulated prize money earnings over time stand at almost $10 million (£7.5m), showing just how much of a commanding figure Peng has been in the sport over the years.

News Now - Sport News