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Serena Williams “shocked, devastated” as Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai grows concerned


Serena Williams Thursday at the Choir of Concern for Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, whose whereabouts have been shrouded in mystery since she claimed a powerful Chinese politician sexually assaulted her. “I am devastated and shocked to hear the news from my peer, Peng Shuai,” former world number one Williams wrote on Twitter. “I hope she is found safe and as soon as possible. It needs to be investigated and we must not remain silent.” Serena Williams’ tweet was accompanied by a photo of a smiling Peng with caption with #WhereIsPengShuai.

“Send love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time,” Williams added.

Peng, 35, a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion, claimed on Chinese social media website Weibo earlier this month that former deputy premier Zhang Gaoli “forced” her to have sex during a long-term on-off relationship.

The claims were quickly scrapped from the Twitter-like platform and she has not been seen since, sparking growing concerns about her well-being.

China’s state – run CGTN on Wednesday posted a screenshot on Twitter of what it said was an email Peng wrote to Steve Simon, chairman of the WTA tour, and other WTA officials.

In the email, Peng allegedly claims that her earlier accusations of sexual abuse are “not true” and says she “rests at home and everything is fine”.

But doubts were quickly raised about the language used in Peng’s alleged email, of which Twitter users noted that a cursor was visible in the screenshot posted by CGTN.

Simon, WTA boss, said he struggled to believe the Peng statement was authentic.

“The statement released today by Chinese state media about Peng Shuai only raises my concerns about her safety and where she is,” Simon said.

‘Incredible courage’

“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believe what is attributed to her,” he added.

He said he had repeatedly tried to reach Peng through numerous forms of communication, without success, and asked for “independent and verifiable proof that she was safe.”

“Peng Shuai has shown incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government,” Simon said.

“Her allegation of sexual assault must be respected, investigated with full transparency and without censorship.

“The voices of women should be heard and respected, not censored or dictated.”

China has kept quiet about growing concerns about the tennis star, whose claims were the first time her young #MeToo movement had struck at the top level of the ruling Communist Party.

But Beijing has previously faced allegations of using coercive confessions on state media, with British regulators withdrawing CGTN’s license for failing to comply with fairness and privacy rules.

On November 2, Peng wrote on social media that Zhang – who is in his seventies – “forced” her to have sex and said they had an on-off relationship that lasted several years.

However, it appears that the post was quickly erased, prompting swift accusations from Beijing critics of online censorship.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka said on Wednesday she was “shocked” by the matter, with Novak Djokovic and many other players saying in recent days that they were deeply concerned about her.

American player Jessica Pegula tweeted on Thursday that she hopes the WTA “continues to show what we as players stand for”.

“I hope more people, not just tennis players, shed light on this extremely worrying situation,” she wrote.

Canadian tennis’s governing body Tennis Canada has issued a statement in support of Peng, calling for “independent and indisputable proof that she is safe.”

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China’s national tennis association did not respond to AFP’s requests for comment.

(This story was not edited by NDTV staff and is automatically generated from a syndicated stream.)

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