Beijing Welcomes Tennis Back, But Peng Shuai’s Disappearance Remains a Mystery
These days, Beijing is hosting some of the world’s best tennis players, with the exception of Novak Djokovic. For the first time in his career, Carlos Alcaraz competes in China, while Aryna Sabalenka debuts as the new number one player in the women’s circuit. Meanwhile, Coco Gauff has established herself as the rising star of women’s tennis. However, amidst the excitement, the whereabouts of Peng Shuai, a 37-year-old Chinese tennis player, remain unknown, leaving a cloud of mystery over the tournament.
A Shocking Accusation and Disappearance
Almost two years ago, Peng Shuai, a champion of Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the doubles circuit, used Weibo, the Chinese social media platform, to accuse Zhang Gaoli, the former vice prime minister of China, of sexual abuse. Although her message was quickly deleted, the news spread worldwide, leading to public outrage and support from prominent figures like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
The International Tennis Federation’s Reaction
In response to the media frenzy surrounding Peng Shuai’s case, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) decided to remove all Chinese tournaments from the calendar until they received assurances of her safety. However, as of 2023, little is known about Shuai’s current situation. Despite the unresolved mystery, tennis has returned to China with full force.
A Murky Situation
Since her accusation, Peng Shuai has only made a video conference with Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, and an interview with L’Equipe, both arranged by the Chinese government. In these interactions, she claimed to be “misunderstood” and denied accusing Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. However, Steve Simon, the director of the women’s circuit, stated vaguely that they know Shuai’s whereabouts and that she is safe, contradicting the official statement released by his organization.
China’s Importance to Women’s Tennis
China plays a vital role in the economic aspect of the women’s tennis circuit. With nine tournaments and a prize pool of over $30 million annually, it has been a significant source of revenue for the sport. Historic agreements, such as the contract between Shenzhen and the WTA Finals, have been lost due to the pandemic and the Peng Shuai case, leaving the women’s circuit at a disadvantage compared to the men’s.
Tennis Returns to China
Despite the ongoing concerns, the tennis caravan has returned to China, attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy. The China Open, held in Beijing, is currently taking place, coincidentally in the same city where Peng Shuai is believed to be. The WTA has assured the safety of its players and staff in China, but many questions remain unanswered, causing worry among the players.
Alcaraz Advances in China Open
Carlos Alcaraz, the world number two, started his journey in the China Open with a comfortable victory against Yannick Hanfmann. He is now set to face Lorenzo Musetti in the round of 16, aiming to accumulate the points needed to surpass Novak Djokovic and claim the top spot in the world rankings.