The head of the Women’s Tennis Association on Wednesday voiced concern over an email it received in which Chinese professional tennis player Peng Shuai was said to deny her previous allegations of sexual assault.
Peng, one of China’s biggest sport stars, said on social media earlier this month that former Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli coerced her into sex and that they later had an on-off consensual relationship.
Her post was quickly deleted and she had not been seen publicly or made a statement since then, alarming the global tennis community.
On Twitter, Chinese state-affiliated media outlet CGTN released what it said was an email Peng had sent to WTA Chairman and CEO Steve Simon in which she denied the allegations, and that she was not missing or unsafe, but just “resting at home.”
But in his own written statement, Simon said the email only raised his concerns as to Peng’s “safety and whereabouts,” and that he had a hard time believing she actually wrote the email.
Peng is a former World No. 1-ranked doubles player, taking 23 tour-level doubles titles, including Grand Slams at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open in 2014.
She hasn’t competed on tour since the Qatar Open in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic forced tennis to take a hiatus.
Former Vice Premier Zhang retired in 2018 and has largely disappeared from public life, as is usual with former Chinese officials.