Women’s tennis urges Peng Shuai to get in touch

Women's tennis needs to hear directly from Peng Shuai to know that she is safe, two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka said Wednesday, as fears persist for China's former world number one doubles player. Previous Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion Peng alleged on social media in November that former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli forced her into sex during a long-term on-off relationship. However, her online post was deleted and her claims censored, then she disappeared from public, only to reappear three weeks later. Despite this and a video call with IOC president Thomas Bach, there remain doubts about how free the 36-year-old Peng really is. Azarenka, a long-time member of the WTA Players' Council, said efforts were still being made to ensure Peng was safe. "There hasn't been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai even though from our side we will continue to make any and all efforts to make sure that she is safe, she feels comfortable," she said at the Australian Open. "Hopefully we will get to hear from her personally at some point. I think that's the goal, the main goal right now." World number one Ashleigh Barty said she wanted to see Peng playing again. "I think the tennis community has come together," she said when asked how important it was to keep putting pressure on China to dispel doubts about Peng's well-being. "Obviously we're all looking out for her safety. We all hope that she's well. We hope that she's doing okay. Hopefully it's not too long until we see her back out here." The Women's Tennis Association last month suspended tournaments in China given its "serious doubts" about Peng's safety and Azarenka said plans were afoot to find replacements for the axed events. The Covid pandemic means no tournaments were likely to take place any time soon in China anyway. "I think right now, it's a process. The process is obviously not public at the moment because there is no certainties or any decisions or substitutions that are in play," said Azarenka, a straight-sets winner in the second round on Wednesday in Melbourne. "The process is there. As soon as we have more concrete information, it will definitely be shared. "Right now it's still up in the air, but there is work behind the scenes for sure."

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