It looked as though Peng Shuai had quietly returned to professional tennis after the official Italian Open website named the Chinese star on today’s practice schedule.
The surprise listing proved to be a mistake after it was amended shortly after to display current world number 40 Zhang Shuai’s name instead.
Ben Rothenberg, editor of Racquet Magazine, posted the error and the correction that followed on Twitter, but admitted his “jaw dropped” when he first saw Peng’s name on the site.
Peng has not played a competitive match since the 2020 Qatar Open. The former doubles world number one announced her retirement earlier this year after becoming the focus of widespread concern in 2021.
I don’t know if it’s an error or what, but my jaw dropped as I scrolled through today’s Rome practice schedule… pic.twitter.com/PDHcQoxUpe
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 8, 2022
What happened to Peng Shuai?
Peng sparked worry within the tennis community when she disappeared from the public eye after making sexual assault allegations against a former politician.
In November, the 36-year-old posted a lengthy message on Weibo — one of China’s biggest social media platforms — accusing retired Vice–Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into having sex.
The site removed the post just minutes after and a blanket censorship was issued over the subject, this included Weibo blocking Peng’s name and even the term ‘tennis’ from being searched on the platform.
The two-time doubles Grand Slam winner then disappeared from the public eye, resulting in fellow tennis icons, including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Andy Murray, expressing their concern online under the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai.
Peng fell silent for three weeks before a string of suspicious events raised more concern for WTA CEO Steve Simon.
One was an email purportedly written by the tennis star to Simon, which opened with “Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai.”
The email then stated the allegations made against Gaoli were untrue and that Peng “is not missing” but instead “resting at home.”
She was then seen in photographs while out in public, appearing at an associate dinner and a tennis event in Beijing, which were released by Chinese Government-controlled media. However, Simon ruled this was not enough evidence that Peng was free from censorship and able to communicate freely.
Indeed, while Peng was also seen attending the Beijing Winter Olympics earlier this year, there remains deep concerns over her wellbeing.
BEIJING, CHINA – FEBRUARY 08: Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai looks on during the Women’s Freestyle Skiing Freeski Big Air Final on Day 4 of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Big Air Shougang on February 08, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
She recently gave an interview with French magazine L’Equipe, in which she reiterated that everything from the last three months had just been a “misunderstanding.” However, more questions have been raised around the ominous nature of Peng’s situation following the interview, which was conducted under extremely controlled circumstances.
An official from the Chinese Olympic Committee accompanied Peng and translated her answers from Chinese, despite the fact she has given several interviews in English before, without a translator. Questions from L’Equipe were also approved beforehand by COC officials.
Simon and the WTA remain dedicated to finding answers and confirming Peng’s safety.
WTA events in China
Shortly after concerns were raised over Peng’s welfare, the WTA made the decision to cancel all of its scheduled tournaments in China. This was expected to cost the Tour hundreds of millions of dollars in sponsorship and broadcast deals.
It has since been confirmed that the WTA Tour will not return to China until a resolution is found over Peng.
“We have not had any recent communication with Peng and the world has not seen Peng since the Olympics either,” Simon said. “I don’t think you will make change in this world by walking away from issues. You have to create change.
“We will stay resolute. We do hope to be back there [China] in 2023 with the resolution that shows progress was made in the space. That’s a victory for the world if we can accomplish that.”
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