Naomi Osaka on Missing Tennis Star: 'I'm In Shock'

Tennis world demands answers about Peng Shuai after she made sexual assault allegations
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2021 8:26 AM CST
Tennis World Demands Answers on Missing Star
Naomi Osaka is seen during the Miami Open tennis tournament in Miami Gardens, Fla., on March 31, 2021.   (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Earlier this month, a pro women's tennis star in China lobbed sexual assault allegations on social media against an ex-government bigwig there. That post was quickly scrubbed, and since then, no one's heard publicly from Peng Shuai, leading to no shortage of concern. Among the voices demanding answers on Peng's status: Japanese player and Grand Slam champ Naomi Osaka. "I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and OK," Osaka tweeted Tuesday. "I'm in shock of the current situation and I'm sending love and light her way."

Osaka added, "Censorship is never OK at any cost." Osaka is the latest person from the tennis world to speak up about Peng, with Novak Djokovic and French player Nicolas Mahut also expressing dismay. Peng, 35, had alleged in early November on Weibo, China's version of Twitter, that she and 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier, had had an on-again, off-again "relationship" for a decade or so, but that three years ago he'd coerced her into sex against her will at his home after inviting her over to play tennis with him and his wife.

The Guardian notes that Peng's post was soon deleted, and even though her Weibo account is still active, comments are now turned off. The Chinese government itself remains mum on what's going on, with a spokesperson from the Ministry of Public Affairs balking when confronted with a query on Peng. "I have not heard of the issue you raised," he said. "This is not a diplomatic question."

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The Women's Tennis Association is investigating and says it's been told Peng is "safe and not under any physical threat," per the BBC. WTA CEO Steve Simon tells the New York Times that the Chinese Tennis Association is among those offering assurances that Peng is OK. "My understanding is that she is in Beijing ... but I can't confirm that because I haven't spoken directly with her," Simon says. He adds that he'd consider suspending WTA tournaments in China if "appropriate results" on Peng aren't seen. (More Naomi Osaka stories.)

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