Peng Shuai: Concerns resurface over wellbeing of Chinese tennis star as she turns 36

Peng Shuai

Concerns over the wellbeing of Peng Shuai have heightened as the Chinese tennis star turns 36 today.

The former doubles world number one has been elusive since November, when she made sexual assault claims against China’s ex-Vice Premier, Zhang Gaoli.

Peng disappeared from the public eye shortly after she made the accusations, and despite appearing on a video call and being seen at social events since, the Women’s Tennis Association is still doubtful over her safety.

Peng wrote the accusations against Gaoli on social media platform Weibo but the post was deleted by the site shortly after. Search terms including the player’s name and the term ‘tennis’ were then blocked from being viewed by other users.

There was an alarming period of silence from Peng after the post was taken down, which sent waves of worry throughout the tennis community. 

The only form of contact that purportedly came from Peng at this time was a “dubious” letter stressing the accusations she had made were not true and that she was perfectly fine and resting at home.

This only enflamed the already widespread worry and the likes of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka joined the #WhereIsPengShuai movement on social media as they attempted to help the investigation into her whereabouts.

Peng Shuai

Shortly after this, the former French Open and Wimbledon doubles champion was seen in public again for the first time in weeks.

Peng was filmed at two social events — an associate dinner and a tennis event in Beijing, as well as appearing on a video call with International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

The Chinese star told Bach she was “safe and well” at home but “would like to have her privacy respected.” 

Peng Shuai

WTA CEO Steve Simon attempted to make contact with Peng during this period but feared her responses were clearly “influenced by others” and that she is “not free from censorship or coercion.”

Simon and the WTA remain “deeply concerned” about Peng, particularly after China’s foreign ministry dismissed the situation as a political matter and urged the public to stop any “malicious hyping”.

Concerns sparked again just last month when Peng denied making any accusations against the former Vice Premier. 

“First of all, I want to emphasise something that is very important. I have never said that I wrote that anyone sexually assaulted me. I need to emphasise this point very clearly,” she told Lianhe Zaobao, a publication in Singapore.

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The claims may have been denied by the tennis star, but supporters and professionals worldwide continue to be worried about her safety. 

Many have taken to Twitter to wish Peng a happy birthday, but also to reiterate the concern and raise questions over her whereabouts. 

Peng has not been active on the court in almost two years now, with her last appearance taking place in the Qatar Total Open 2020. 

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