China’s Peng Denies Sex Assault Claim As WTA Continue Investigations

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai denied being sexually assaulted by a senior communist leader
(FILES) This file photo taken on November 3, 2017, shows Peng Shuai of China looking on during her women’s singles match against Elena Vesnina of Russia at the Zhuhai Elite Trophy tennis tournament in Zhuhai, in south China’s Guangdong province. 
STR / AFP

 

Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai has denied alleging that a senior Communist Party leader sexually assaulted her and insisted she is living freely, in her first media interview since her accusations triggered concerns for her safety.

However, the comments did not ease worries at the Women’s Tennis Association, which said Monday that it still had “significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion”.

In a post last month on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, Peng had alleged that former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli — who is in his 70s — coerced her into sex during an on-off relationship spanning several years.

In comments to Lianhe Zaobao, a Singaporean Chinese-language newspaper, Peng denied making the allegation.

“I would like to stress a very important point: I have never said nor written anything accusing anyone of sexually assaulting me,” the 35-year-old said in footage apparently filmed on a phone at a sports event in Shanghai on Sunday.

“I would like to emphasise this point very clearly.”

The post was quickly scrubbed from the Chinese web, but not before screenshots were posted on Twitter, setting off a global outcry.

The former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion then disappeared from public appearances for around three weeks.

The incident sparked international concern about her safety, including those from the United Nations, the White House, and fellow tennis stars.

In the Zaobao video, when asked about the Weibo statement, Peng did not deny the post but described it as a “private matter” that people had “many misunderstandings” about.

She did not elaborate.

In the video, a person is heard asking if she is able to move around freely and if she has been under surveillance since making the accusations.

Peng responded that she has “always been very free”.

The WTA said it was still not convinced of Peng’s wellbeing.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault,” the organisation said in a statement emailed to AFP.

The WTA has suspended all tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, over concerns about Peng.

 ‘My own free will’

The latest video follows images of Peng published by Chinese state media, including some of her at a tennis tournament.

They also published a screenshot of an email Peng purportedly wrote to the Women’s Tennis Association saying “everything is fine”.

But that did little to ease worries.

WTA chief Steve Simon said at the time he had “a hard time believing” Peng’s email and questioned whether she was really free to speak openly.

In the latest video, dressed in a red T-shirt and dark down jacket, both with “China” emblazoned on them, Peng told Zaobao that the email was legitimate and written, “entirely of my own free will”.

Hours earlier, unverified images posted online by a Chinese state-affiliated journalist showed Peng speaking with Yao and two other Chinese sports figures — Olympic sailing champion Xu Lijia and retired table tennis player Wang Liqin.

In Peng’s original post in November — removed after about thirty minutes — she purportedly accused Zhang of pressuring her into sex, and wrote that she was “very scared” and “kept crying”.

Peng reportedly claimed they then went on to have a relationship, which continued until Zhang stopped recently.

All discussion of Peng’s claims have been quickly scrubbed from China’s tightly-controlled internet, and the foreign ministry has said the case was being “maliciously” hyped up.

-AFP

WTA: Osaka Falls Out Of Top 10 For First Time Since 2018

Japan’s Naomi Osaka reacts during her 2021 US Open Tennis tournament women’s singles third round match against Canada’s Leylah Fernandez at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, on September 3, 2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

 

Naomi Osaka dropped out of the world’s top 10 on Monday for the first time since winning the 2018 US Open title as she continues to take a break from tennis.

The Japanese star, a former world number one, has not played since exiting the US Open in the third round last month.

Osaka has fallen to 12th in the WTA rankings, her lowest mark since before her first of four Grand Slam titles at Flushing Meadows three years ago when she beat Serena Williams in an infamous final.

Last week, the 23-year-old said that her return would be “probably soon” and that she “kind of” has “that itch again”.

Osaka had previously pulled out of the French Open and skipped Wimbledon this year to protect her mental health.

Two-time Grand Slam champion Garbine Muguruza jumped to sixth in the rankings after winning the title in Chicago last week.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who lost to Muguruza in the final, climbed to a career-high ranking of 14th.

WTA top 20 on October 4:

1. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) 9,077 pts

2. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 7,115

3. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 5,285

4. Iga Swiatek (POL) 4,756

5. Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) 4,668

6. Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 4,595 (+3)

7. Elina Svitolina (UKR) 4,376 (-1)

8. Sofia Kenin (USA) 4,190

9. Maria Sakkari (GRE) 4,055 (+1)

10. Belinda Bencic (SUI) 3,835 (+2)

11. Petra Kvitova (CZE) 3,735

12. Naomi Osaka (JPN) 3,326 (-5)

13. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 3,255

14. Ons Jabeur (TUN) 3,220 (+2)

15. Angelique Kerber (GER) 3,105 (-1)

16. Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 2,983 (+1)

17. Simona Halep (ROM) 2,982 (-2)

18. Elise Mertens (BEL) 2,885

19. Cori Gauff (USA) 2,815

20. Anett Kontaveit (EST) 2,616 (+3)

Osaka Drops Out Of Top Five In WTA Rankings

File Photo of Japan’s Naomi Osaka as she reacts during her 2021 US Open Tennis tournament women’s singles third round match against Canada’s Leylah Fernandez at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York, on September 3, 2021. (Photo by Ed JONES / AFP)

 

Naomi Osaka slipped out of the top five in the WTA rankings on Monday while Simona Halep, another former world number one, continued her slide by also dropping three places.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka fell from fifth to eighth as Halep, who married boyfriend Toni Iuruc last week in a civil ceremony in her hometown of Constanta, tumbled down to 14th.

Ashleigh Barty remains top and French Open winner Barbora Krejcikova climbed to a career-high of fifth.

Danish teenager Clara Tauson rose 18 places to 52nd after capturing her second title of the year in Luxembourg.

Italy’s Jasmine Paolini jumped from 87th to 64th following her first WTA title at Portoroz, Slovenia.

WTA rankings as of September 20:

1. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) 10075 pts

2. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 7720

3. Karolina Pliskova (CZE) 5315

4. Elina Svitolina (UKR) 4860

5. Barbora Krejcikova (CZE) 4668 (+2)

6. Iga Swiatek (POL) 4571 (+2)

7. Sofia Kenin (USA) 4413 (-1)

8. Naomi Osaka (JPN) 4326 (-3)

9. Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 4135

10. Petra Kvitova (CZE) 4060

11. Belinda Bencic (SUI) 3820 (+1)

12. Maria Sakkari (GRE) 3750 (+1)

13. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS) 3285 (+1)

14. Simona Halep (ROM) 3152 (-3)

15. Angelique Kerber (GER) 3115

16. Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 3068 (+1)

17. Ons Jabeur (TUN) 2975 (+1)

18. Elise Mertens (BEL) 2890 (-2)

19. Coco Gauff (USA) 2815

20. Bianca Andreescu (CAN) 2777

Selected:

52. Clara Tauson (DEN) 1300 (+18)

64. Jasmine Paolini (ITA) 1075 (+23)

Wounded Osaka Climbs To Ninth In WTA Rankings

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 26: Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2020 in New York City. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP.

 

Naomi Osaka climbed one place to number nine in the new WTA rankings, which were released on Monday ahead of the US Open, after withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open final at the weekend.

Osaka, who is scheduled to meet fellow Japanese Misaki Doi in the first round at Flushing Meadows, pulled out of Saturday’s final because of a left hamstring injury.

Her withdrawal handed the title to Victoria Azarenka who climbed 32 places to 27th in the world.

Australian Ashleigh Barty retains the top spot although neither she nor world number two Simona Halep are taking part in the US Open which is being staged without spectators in a Covid-19 quarantine bubble.

Karolina Pliskova, the world number three, is the highest ranked player and top seed going into the second Grand Slam tournament of the year.

Serena Williams, 38, who is searching for her 24th Grand Slam singles title, rises one place to eighth in the world.

Latest WTA rankings:

1. Ashleigh Barty (AUS) 8717 pts

2. Simona Halep (ROM) 6356

3. Karolína Pliskova (CZE) 5205

4. Sofia Kenin (USA) 4590

5. Elina Svitolina (UKR) 4580

6. Bianca Andreescu (CAN) 4555

7. Kiki Bertens (NED) 4335

8. Serena Williams (USA) 4080 (+1)

9. Naomi Osaka (JPN) 4020 (+1)

10. Belinda Bencic (SUI) 4010 (-2)

11. Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) 3615

12. Petra Kvitova (CZE) 3566

13. Johanna Konta (GBR) 3152 (+2)

14. Madison Keys (USA) 2962 (-1)

15. Petra Martic (CRO) 2850 (-1)

16. Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 2711

17. Elena Rybakina (KAZ) 2471

18. Elise Mertens (BEL) 2360 (+4)

19. Marketa Vondrousova (CZE) 2308 (-1)

20. Alison Riske (USA) 2256 (-1)

AFP

Osaka Reverses Course, Will Play WTA Semi-Final

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – AUGUST 26: Naomi Osaka of Japan returns a shot against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during the Western & Southern Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 26, 2020 in New York City. Al Bello/Getty Images/AFP.

 

Japan’s Naomi Osaka reversed her decision to withdraw from the WTA Western & Southern Open semi-finals on Thursday, saying she will now play the match that has been rearranged for Friday.

The two-time Grand Slam champion said in a statement on Wednesday that she had pulled out of her last-four clash with Belgium’s Elise Mertens in protest at the police shooting of black man Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

However, after WTA and ATP chiefs announced a suspension of play at the tournament following anger over Blake’s shooting, Osaka said she has now changed her mind.

“As you know, I pulled out of the tournament yesterday in support of racial injustice and continued police violence,” Osaka said in a statement first reported by Britain’s The Guardian and The New York Times.

“I was (and am) ready and prepared to concede the match to my opponent.

“However, after my announcement and lengthy consultation with the WTA and USTA, I have agreed at their request to play on Friday.

“They offered to postpone all matches until Friday and in my mind that brings more attention to the movement.

“I want to thank the WTA and the tournament for their support.”

In her statement on Wednesday, Osaka had said she was not ready to play tennis following the Blake shooting.

“Before I am an athlete, I am a black woman. And as a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,” Osaka said.

“I don’t expect anything drastic to happen with me not playing, but if I can get a conversation started in a majority white sport I consider that a step in the right direction.”

Her move came after the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their NBA playoff game over the shooting, forcing the league to halt Wednesday’s schedule of postseason fixtures.

AFP

Osaka Suffers WTA Finals Injury Heartbreak For Second Year Running

 

Two-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka withdrew from the season-ending WTA Finals with a shoulder problem on Tuesday, the second straight year she has been forced out due to injury.

Osaka, who retired during last year’s edition of the lucrative year-ender with a hamstring injury, had been due to play world number one Ashleigh Barty later on Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed to have to withdraw from the Finals,” Osaka said. “It has been a great event in Shenzhen, and it’s the biggest WTA event of the year.”

“This is not how I wanted to end this tournament or my season. I look forward to getting healthy and hope to be back here in Shenzhen next year,” she added.

Osaka had started the $14 million round-robin tournament with a tough three-set victory over Petra Kvitova on Sunday to extend her winning streak to 11 matches after titles in Beijing and Osaka.

She had been determined to make amends for a disappointing WTA Finals debut last year, when her winless campaign ended with her retiring in tears against Kiki Bertens due to a hamstring injury.

World number 10 Bertens will replace Osaka for the remaining matches and plays Barty in Red Group action on Tuesday.

Teenager Gauff Dumped Out At Luxembourg After Maiden WTA Win

Cori Gauff of US reacts during the WTA-Upper Austria Ladies final tennis match against Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia (unseen) on October 13, 2019 in Linz, Austria. BARBARA GINDL / APA / AFP

 

The US’ Coco Gauff failed to follow up on her maiden WTA tournament win after crashing out in the first round 6-4, 6-0 to Anna Blinkova in Luxembourg on Wednesday.

Teenage sensation Gauff, made headlines around the world on Sunday when she conquered her first career title in Linz, Austria, aged 15 years and seven months.

She became the youngest player to win a WTA event since Czech Nicole Vaidisova, who triumphed in Vancouver and Tashkent two months apart in 2004 as a 15-year-old, and shot up 39 places in the WTA rankings to number 71.

However eighth seed Russian Blinkova was too strong for the young American, breaking Gauff’s resistance in the first set before crushing her to love in the second and setting up a second round match against Germany’s Tatjana Maria.

AFP

Pliskova Sweeps Past Konta To Win Italian Open

Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova poses with the trophy after winning against Britain’s Johanna Konta the WTA Masters tournament final tennis match at the Foro Italico camp in Rome, on May 19, 2019. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Czech fourth seed Karolina Pliskova swept past Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4 to win the WTA Italian Open on Sunday.

Pliskova, the 2017 French Open semi-finalist, clinched her 13th career title, in her final warm-up tournament on clay before Roland Garros starts on May 26.

READ ALSO: Ozil Dines With Turkey’s Erdogan During Ramadan Iftar

AFP

Barty Beats Pliskova To Win WTA Miami Open Title

Ashleigh Barty of Australia celebrates with the trophy after her win against Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic in the final during day thirteen of the Miami Open tennis on March 30, 2019 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Julian Finney/Getty Images/AFP

 

Ashleigh Barty’s transformation is complete after the Australian defeated Czech seventh seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7/1) 6-3 Saturday to win the biggest singles title of her career at the WTA Miami Open.

The 22-year-old Aussie quit tennis five years ago after finding the mental grind of the tour too much to bear, turning to professional cricket in a bid to find sporting happiness.

Barty, however, knew she had the tennis skills to compete at the very top and after returning in February 2016, has taken her career to an elite level, culminating in her first-ever WTA Premier Mandatory title to follow on from the US Open doubles crown she won last September.

Barty, a junior Wimbledon winner at age 15, will rise from 11th to number nine in the world rankings and become the first Australian woman since Sam Stosur in June 2013 to crack the top 10.

“It has been a phenomenal two weeks both in singles and doubles,” said Barty, who lost a women’s doubles semi-final alongside Victoria Azarenka.

Barty hit 15 aces and 41 winners compared to 22 from an out-of-sorts Pliskova.

“I had to keep it physical, make as many balls as possible and keep my running shoes on,” Barty said.

Barty’s victory means that for the first time ever there have been 14 different winners in 14 WTA events so far this season.

Pliskova, who will rise to fourth in the rankings despite a disappointing final, badly struggled with her serve and movement, off the pace mentally and physically after reaching the quarter-finals or better in her five prior tournaments this year.

“I am very tired but Ashleigh came up with the goods today,” Pliskova said.

The 27-year-old Czech came into the final with 31 aces, most in the women’s draw, but she won only 65% of points on her first serve compared to 86% from Barty.

When the Australian double-faulted at 1-1 to hand Pliskova an early break, it wasn’t the start Barty sought and more errors in the following game allowed Pliskova to extend her lead.

Barty then began to settle down and crisply struck a forehand winner to breal Pliskova for the first time.

The Aussie started superbly in the tie-breaker, moving 5-1 ahead before Pliskova hit long to seal the set for Barty, who broke early in the second set to signal it would be her day.

AFP

Kontaveit Stuns WTA Elite Defending Champion Goerges In Zhuhai

File Photo of Anett Kontaveit

 

Defending champion Julia Goerges suffered a bruising defeat to Anett Kontaveit at the WTA Elite Trophy in China on Wednesday. 

The fifth seed took a nasty tumble mid-way through the match, which she went on to lose 2-6, 6-4, 4-6 after more than two hours.

Kontaveit, the tournament tenth seed, started brightly, breaking the world no. 14 three times to take the opening set.

Goerges, 29, fell heavily on to the hard court in the sixth game of the second set and needed to ice her right leg during the changeover.

Clearly slightly rattled, the German nevertheless dug deep to claim the set, pumping her fist and gesturing to her coach as she celebrated.

However, it was the 22-year-old Estonian Kontaveit who won the decider at the Hengqin International Tennis Center.

World no. 20 Kontaveit has now played both her round-robin matches, after losing on Tuesday to Belgium’s Elise Mertens, who will play Goerges later in the tournament.

Now in its fourth year, the Elite Trophy features 12 players ranked roughly from nine to 20. This year’s total prize money is $2.35 million across the singles and doubles tournaments.

AFP

Pliskova Storms Into WTA Semi Finals After Beating Kvitova

Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova hits a return against her compatriot Petra Kvitova during their singles match at the WTA Finals tennis tournament in Singapore on October 25, 2018.
Roslan RAHMAN / AFP

 

Czech Karolina Pliskova stormed into the semi-finals on Thursday after a convincing straight-sets victory against compatriot Petra Kvitova, sending the former Wimbledon champion crashing out of the WTA Finals in Singapore.

Pliskova became the first player into the final four after a 6-3, 6-4 triumph in 83 minutes. Kvitova needed to win in straight sets to keep her campaign alive but struggled throughout to complete a disappointing first WTA Finals appearance since 2015.

The result puts pressure on reigning champion Caroline Wozniacki, who needs to defeat unbeaten Elina Svitolina in straight sets to keep her title defense alive.

Former world number one Pliskova booked her spot in the semi-finals for the second straight year.

“I can’t be happier right now,” she said after the match.

“Everything has been working well for me this week. I don’t want to think of the trophy … I’ll just do what I can to recover.”

Kvitova’s slump in Singapore continued, serving three double faults to be broken in the second game of the match and her confidence spiraled.

It was one-way traffic with Pliskova dominating off the baseline and picking off Kvitova’s timid shots to rattle off the opening four games.

On the brink of elimination, Kvitova showed some fight by attacking Pliskova’s powerful serve and breaking in the fifth game.

But Pliskova regrouped to close it out in 41 minutes and eliminate Kvitova, who had 15 unforced errors in the first set.

With the pressure off, Kvitova went for her forehands and it paid off as she began hitting the lines.

The 28-year-old broke in the second game and stormed to a 4-2 lead as it appeared a seventh straight match at the WTA Finals would go the distance.

But Pliskova rediscovered her rhythm to win four straight games and defeat Kvitova for the first time after three straight losses.

Top-Ranked Halep Out Of Wta Finals With Back Injury

A  photo of World number one Simona Halep on October 18 withdrew from the WTA Finals in Singapore due to a back injury, the latest tournament she has been forced to abandon.
Nicolas ASFOURI / AFP

World number one Simona Halep withdrew from the WTA Finals in Singapore with a back injury on Thursday, bringing her season to a premature end.

The French Open champion pulled out of last month’s China Open after just 31 minutes and withdrew from this week’s Kremlin Cup because of the persistent problem.

Halep, 27, said she had hoped to compete at the season finale in Singapore, which starts on Sunday, but that she had taken the “tough” decision to put her health first.

“It’s always difficult to withdraw from a big tournament,” said the Romanian, who sustained the injury in Wuhan last month.

“My back is not okay. I didn’t practice for the last four weeks. I’m not ready to compete at this level and I’m still sore.”

Her withdrawal means that Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands moves into the eighth and final qualifying spot in the WTA Finals.

It has been a disappointing end to a spectacular season for Halep, which saw her secure the year-end number one ranking in the WTA standings for the second year running.

She spent 40 weeks at number one in 2018, and won three titles from a tour-leading six final appearances, amassing a 46-11 win-loss record.

This year Halep has won the Shenzhen Open, the Rogers Cup and her debut Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros.

In addition, she reached the title match at the Australian Open, in Rome and Cincinnati.

AFP