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15 Nov, 2021 18:40

‘It’s shocking’: Djokovic fears for Chinese tennis ace who ‘vanished’ after sexual abuse allegations

‘It’s shocking’: Djokovic fears for Chinese tennis ace who ‘vanished’ after sexual abuse allegations

Tennis king Novak Djokovic hopes the female ace who "disappeared" after a social media post making abuse allegations about China's former vice premier is found – but fans are skeptical about claims she is safe.

There have been widespread concerns for the welfare of former doubles champion Peng Shuai, who reportedly vanished at around the same time a social media post making allegations about former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhang Gaoli was removed.

The 35-year-old claimed that Zhang had subjected her to a long campaign of manipulation and abuse alongside his wife, including attempting to force her to have sex with him and telling her that he hoped he would be with her in another life.

Few professional players initially spoke out, although a growing social media campaign pleaded with the WTA, which counts China as an important host for events and source of income, to take action to ascertain Peng's whereabouts.

Responding in a statement, the WTA called for a "full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations", adding that it felt "deep concern" about the troubling turn of events.

"Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored," it said. "Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness."

Association chief Steve Simon said the organization was willing to face a backlash from China in order to do "what is right".

His account of attempts to reach Peng did not seem entirely convincing about the claim that her safety has been confirmed.

"We've had all of our contacts and all of our team on the tour that has had contacts and relationships with her through the years reaching out," he told the New York Times.

"We've also reached out to all of our WTA athletes from the region who we feel would have relationships with her. And we've heard the same from everybody: that they haven't been able to reach her directly.

"All the sources are that she's fine and doing OK and isn't under any threat, but we have not been able to speak with her directly to this date.

"And I'm not aware of anybody that has, at this point and time."

Fans described the situation as "horrifying", "frightening" and akin to an episode from writer George Orwell's classic dystopian fiction, '1984.'

"OK, so nobody has been able to reach her, but she is fine?" asked one. "Would you find this 'reassuring' if this was a family member of yours?

"'Nobody has heard from my daughter in weeks and everyone who has tried to reach her has been unable to... but I'm sure she's ok.' I'm not buying it."

World number one Djokovic became the highest-profile name to address the issue as the campaign to track down Peng gathered speed.

"It's shocking and terrible that she's missing," the Serb superstar said of the former world number 14.

"More so that it's someone I have seen on the tour quite a few times in the previous years. I hope she will be found."

"A very strong stance by WTA – and the correct stance," said tennis legend and social justice warrior Martina Navratilova on Twitter.

Thirty-nine time Grand Slam title winner Billie Jean King also shared the statement.

"Hoping that Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated," she said.

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