MADRID: Although defeated by Thiem in an absolutely thrilling match, Dimitrov emerged as the crowd favorite at the Madrid Open.
Complaint office – The organization of such a prestigious tournament can count on an impressive number of volunteers that offer their time and passion in order to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Among the many available jobs, some are really dull. For example, let’s spare a thought for the security guards that have to stand for an entire match facing the stands instead of the court, while constantly following every single little movement in the audience. Even more uninspiring is the task assigned to the guys that control the access to the elevator that will take you to the press room. But the worst place is located in the south-east corner of the Caja, where the coldest wind will literally cut your face. It is a place where no one would like to work at: The complaint office. Even on the hottest day of the year, it will always be winter in the complaint office and you will always see the lonely girl at the front desk wearing a heavy jacket, a scarf and a ski beanie. She should probably be the first person to file a complaint!
Who is on the way up and who is on the way down – The Caja is composed of different floors and the internal elevator stops at every one of them. Floor -2 is used by the photographers, floor -1 is filled with journalists, the ground floor will give you access to the three stadiums and the third floor is at the service of TV stations. Every time you take the elevator, not only it is impossible to predict at what floor it is going to stop, but you might also run into a celebrity when you simply don’t expect it. Yesterday we ran into the famous photographer Gianni Ciaccia and former world No. 2 Alex Corretja, who is now working as a tennis analyst for the Spanish national television. The two stars hugged each other hello while we were silently enjoying the scene.
The “Grigorettes” and Dominic’s little fist pump – The late afternoon match between Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday truly entertained the Grand Stand crowd. The usual “Bulgarian corner” with Grisha’s fanatics also included three beautiful girls who were screaming and cheering for their favorite player, while a middle-aged gentleman dressed in Bulgaria’s colors – green pants, white jersey and red jacket – was furiously staring at the line judges whenever they made incorrect calls in favor of Dimitrov’s opponent.
The match was of the highest quality and both players equally stole the show, even if one of the guys in charge of the court maintenance played a prominent role at the beginning of the third set. As the chair umpire asked him to dust the lines before play resumed, the guy not only meticulously cleaned every inch of the lines but he also dusted the MADRID sign that was entirely covered with red clay. The audience amusingly applauded his keenness and Thiem congratulated him on his success with a little fist pump.
Come on, Ferru! – On the Grand Stand crowd never stopped cheering for David Ferrer during his difficult match against Kei Nishikori of Japan. Each time they screamed “Come on, Ferru,” my colleague Ferruccio Roberti thanked the audience with a bow.
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )
1st December 2021: The Day Women’s Tennis Held China Accountable For Their Actions
With millions at stake, the WTA stands firmly behind their players.
Even with the threats coming from the WTA few were convinced that the governing body of women’s tennis would conduct one of the most significant moves in its history.
In a statement published on Wednesday, WTA CEO Steve Simon announced that all tournaments in China and neighbouring Hong Kong will be suspended with immediate effect. The remarkable decision is a show of solidarity with Peng Shuai who many fear is being censored by Chinese officials for accusing a former vice-premier of sexual assult. Something the country denies with state-backed media publishing videos and photos of the player. Even a recent video call between Shuai and the International Olympic Committee failed to ease the concerns of the WTA.
“Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way. While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation. The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation.” Simon said in a press release.
The bold move has been hailed by many across social media ranging from tennis players to celebrities. Billie Jean King, who is the WTA’s founder, said the organisation remains ‘on the right side of history in supporting our players.’ Meanwhile, former world No.1 Andy Roddick tweeted ‘there are a lot of organisations who can afford to do something a lot more than the WTA Can.’ It is this point by Roddick that speaks volumes to the significance of their announcement.
Over the past 15 years China has injected millions into developing tennis within the country. It began during 1988 when tennis was brought back into the Olympics before Li Na’s mainstream breakthrough triggered a huge surge in interest. Various cities such as Wuhan, Li Na’s birthplace, started to invest millions in facilities in order to stage major events. As the years went by China wasn’t just a fixture in the calendar, it was instrumental for the entire WTA.
In 2019 China hosted nine WTA events which had a combined prize money pool of $30.4M. To put that into perspective the figure works out to be roughly 17% of the entire prize money offerings on the WTA Tour that year. It was also during 2019 when the WTA Finals started in Shenzhen as part of a lucrative 10-year deal which was valued at $1bn at the time of the announcement by The Sports Business Journal. However, the country has been unable to host another edition due to the COVID-19 pandemic and it was instead held in Mexico this year.
Perhaps from a cynical perspective, the pandemic showed to the WTA that they can still hold a highly successful Tour without relying on a single country during one period of their calendar. Would this influence their decision to withdraw from China in support of Shuai? Probably but they are unlikely to admit it. Not that the WTA doesn’t deserve widespread praise for their decisive action which put other governing bodies to shame.
There is also the question as to how will China respond? Will a country that has spent so much trying to promote tennis be prepared to make some deal with the WTA in order to get them to change their minds? In an ideal world, yes, but this isn’t an ideal world.
“I don’t think they (the WTA) have been paying much attention to what has been happening in Basketball and football in threatening the Chinese with Economic sanctions. It’s not going to work and part of the proof of the pudding was they were not able to get in touch with her (Shuai) and that’s her sport,” IOC council member Dick Pound told CNN earlier this week.
Pound has been a spokesperson for his organisation in defending their handling of Shuai and has told multiple news outlets that she is safe based on what the IOC interpreted from the video call. Ironically, he hasn’t seen the video himself and the IOC made no mention of the sexual assault allegations in their press release.
However, Pound’s remarks on China’s stubbornness is supported by past incidents. One of which involved Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who made a comment in public supporting the democracy movement in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong. China’s CCTV stopped broadcasting NBA Games and the sporting body later apologised but it was 15 months before another Houston game was shown on TV.
Money and politics aside, there remains serious concerns about Shuai’s welfare. Whilst she had made headlines around the world, China’s state-owned media have not published a single article. Photos and videos of the tennis player have only been published on Twitter which is blocked in her home country. BBC analyst Kerry Allen has confirmed that Shuai’s Weibo account is still under restrictions. Users are banned from quoting, sharing or commenting on her historic posts.
It would have been so easy for the WTA to sidestep the Shuai case and label it as a domestic matter in order to maintain their relationship with the Asian country. Instead, they have backed their player despite the likely consequence of a financial loss should China not back down. Something that is both brave and inspiring.
Will the men’s ATP or the ITF follow suit and suspend business with China? Only time will tell on that front. The most important thing is trying to establish the true welfare of Shuai. Something the WTA is determined to do no matter what the cost may be.
December 1st, 2021 has been a historic day for tennis.
The Reshaping of an Era
While Djokovic will still compete for the biggest titles, Medvedev and Zverev proved at the ATP Finals that they are coming for the title of World No.1
For as long as I can remember, those of us who inhabit the world of tennis as journalists and surveyors of the scene have referred to the hierarchy of men’s tennis as “The Big Three”. The oldest member of that iconic trio is, of course, 40-year-old Roger Federer. He was joined by 35-year-old Rafael Nadal and 34-year-old Novak Djokovic. These luminous figures have carried the game forward regally and collectively for the better part of two decades, claiming a record 20 men’s major titles apiece, scaling the heights of the sport time and time again, leaving all of their peers dumbfounded and deflated by virtue of their enduring excellence— not to mention their unbending pride and professionalism. It has been an era unlike any other in the history of tennis as these superstars have enthralled fans in every corner of the globe with their talent, tenaciousness and temerity.
But as the curtain closes on 2021 and the Nitto ATP Finals have just concluded in Turin, it is becoming increasingly likely that the sport is currently moving into a fascinating new era. In many ways, it appears as if the men’s game is being reshaped. Federer may not return to competitive play until the summer of 2022. By then he will be closing in on his 41st birthday, and the feeling grows that he will not be around much longer in the upper echelons as a player. He might even decide to retire by the end of this coming season. Nadal is hoping he can resume his winning ways swiftly when he returns to Melbourne for the Australian Open, and surely wants to round into his finest clay court form across the spring before heading to Paris for a serious bid at a 14th French Open crown.
And yet, only time will tell if Nadal’s foot woes— which plagued him in 2021 and cut his season short—will linger in 2022. The depth of his determination knows no bounds, but the fact remains that his task of reclaiming a place at or near the top of the game will be daunting. Perhaps Nadal will reinvent himself once more and redefine his greatness in the process, but there are no guarantees. The first six months of 2022 will be critical for the redoubtable Spaniard and he will have the chance to make himself a central figure again, but if his foot remains problematic Nadal might be heading toward the closing stages of his illustrious career. Despite an abbreviated 2021 campaign of only seven tournaments and 29 matches (24-5), the dynamic Spaniard finished his record 17th consecutive year among the top ten in the world at No. 6.
Djokovic, of course, is coming off one of his most exhilarating campaigns. In 2021, he moved within one match of winning the Grand Slam, sweeping three majors in a row to tie Federer and Nadal at 20 in total, finishing his seventh season at No. 1 in the world to break Pete Sampras’s record of residing at the top for six years (1993-98). Djokovic claimed two other titles during his spectacular 2021 campaign including a recent triumph at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Paris. Although the Serbian was beaten in a pulsating semifinal at the ATP Finals by Sascha Zverev— and thus was unable to take a sixth title at the season-ending tournament—the fact remains that he celebrated one of the three greatest years (alongside 2011 and 2015) of his astonishing career, and he still stands deservedly alone at the top of is craft.
I believe that there may well be a new “Big Three” in the game over the next couple of years with Djokovic clearly very much in the mix, but joined by the two men who collided in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals at Turin. Zverev won that prestigious title for the second time by upending defending champion and US Open victor Daniil Medvedev in the title round contest. In my view, Djokovic will find himself in frequent combat over the next couple of years against both the German and the Russian on the premier stages in the sport.
To be sure, Medvedev has not yet demonstrated an affinity to play the same brand of lofty tennis he has exhibited on hardcourts when he shifts to clay and grass courts. He reached his first quarterfinal at Roland Garros this year after four first round defeats on the Paris clay in the preceding years, and has yet to advance that far on the lawns of Wimbledon. At the All England Club, he has never made it to the quarterfinals, although he was one set away this year from going that far before losing to Hubert Hurkacz.
The fact remains that Medvedev did win a pre-Wimbledon ATP Tour event this year in Mallorca, Spain on grass, and he was a semifinalist at the ATP Masters 1000 clay court tournament in Monte Carlo two years ago. That is a modest accomplishment, but still an indication of what he can do on his least favorite surface. I have no doubt that Medvedev will make major inroads on the other surfaces in the next few years, even if his preference will still be competing on hard courts.
As for Zverev, he has displayed his versatility and virtuosity for quite some time. As long ago as 2017, this gifted individual won Masters 1000 crowns on both clay and hard courts in Rome and Canada. He took a second Masters 1000 clay court crown in 2018 at Madrid. And this year he was victorious in two more Masters 1000 events, succeeding on clay again in Madrid and on hardcourts in Cincinnati. Like Medvedev, Zverev has struggled inordinately on grass at Wimbledon and has yet to make it past the fourth round. But the feeling grows that he will adapt in due course to the lower bounces and turn himself into a formidable grass court player.
It is simply no accident that Medvedev and Zverev have established themselves as the second and third best players in the world. That is a status they have irrefutably earned. No one won more titles on the ATP Tour this year than Zverev, who finished his best season yet with six. Moreover, he collected the gold medal at the Olympic Games, although no ATP points were available at that prestigious event. Zverev closed the 2021 season by capturing four of his last seven tournaments in a hardcourt blaze.
Medvedev was only marginally better than Zverev in 2021, securing his first Major by upsetting Djokovic in New York, losing to Djokovic at the Australian Open and Paris Masters 1000 finals, and winning the Canada Masters 1000 title in Toronto. He won four titles in addition to reaching two major finals and coming though for the first time on one of the premier stages.
Beyond what they did on their own, both Zverev and Medvedev pushed Djokovic to the hilt in riveting rivalries. Zverev and Djokovic clashed on five occasions in 2021 with the Serbian prevailing 3-2 in the series, although Zverev won two of their last three clashes. Medvedev was 1-2 against Djokovic. Djokovic now holds a 6-4 career lead against Medvedev and he is 7-4 versus Zverev.
But what makes it all so compelling is that Medvedev and Zverev both improved significantly over the course of the 2021 season and their standards are so high that they will keep forcing the ever open-minded and singularly flexible Djokovic to raise his game. I believe Djokovic is up to that considerable task and will at least hold his own with his two toughest younger rivals in 2022 and 2023, but Zverev is only 24 and Medvedev 25. They are just approaching their primes. Djokovic is stretching his prime as long and as far as he possibly can.
I can envision some classic confrontations among this accomplished trio in the coming years. Djokovic will be preoccupied with moving permanently past Federer and Nadal into sole possession for the most majors ever taken by a man, but achieving that mission will be determined to an extent by how he fares against Medvedev and Zverev. They will be his chief adversaries.
Meanwhile, the rivalry between Zverev and Medvedev will be fascinating to follow as well. The Russian warrior had toppled the German competitor five times in a row leading up to the final in Turin, including a narrow triumph during the round robin portion of the ATP Finals.
Let’s look at that contest first. Medvedev broke Zverev once in the course of winning the first set but neither man garnered a break the rest of the way. Zverev took the second set in a tie-break. On they went to settle it all in a third set tie-break, and Zverev moved out in front 4-2. On the crucial seventh point, he sent his normally trustworthy two-handed backhand down the line and into the net without being provoked. Medvedev climbed back to 4-4 and then Zverev squandered another opportunity. He lobbed over the Russian’s backhand side, forcing Medvedev to play a relatively weak high backhand volley crosscourt. Zverev was set up for a backhand down the line that would have given him the point, but drove it long. Although Zverev saved a pair of match points from 4–6 down, he was eventually ousted 6-3 6-7(3) 7-6(6). In that clash, there was only the thinnest margin separating the two players. They would meet again, of course, with the stakes much higher in the final, but more on that skirmish later.
Despite the disappointment of a narrow failure against Medvedev, Zverev prevailed in his two other Red Group round robin assignments in Turin against an injured Matteo Berrettini (7-6(7) 1-0 ret.) and a wobbly Hubert Hurkacz 6-2 6-4, and that earned the 24-year-old a semifinal duel with Djokovic. The world No. 1 had played top of the line tennis in all three of his Green Group round robin matches, taking apart Casper Ruud, Andrey Rublev and Cam Norrie without losing a set.
Djokovic and Zverev had pushed each other to their physical and emotional limits in all four of their previous meetings across 2021. The Serbian had triumphed 7-5 in the final set at the ATP Cup before eclipsing Zverev again in a come-from-behind four set Australian Open quarterfinal. Zverev had turned the tables on Djokovic in the semifinals of the Olympic Games at Tokyo, rallying from a set and a break down to win 1-6 6-3 6-1 before garnering the gold medal easily over Karen Khachanov.
The rivalry was renewed in New York at the US Open when Djokovic surpassed Zverev 6-2 in the fifth set of a stirring semifinal showdown. Proving that the past is indeed prologue, these two magnificent players produced another blockbuster in Turin. The level of play was nothing short of stupendous, especially over the first two sets. At the end of the first set, both men created space for crucial opportunities. It was pivotal in determining the outcome of the match because no one in the Open Era has a better record after winning the first set than the game’s finest front runner Djokovic.
Zverev was serving at 4-5 in that opening set when Djokovic went to work with quiet ferocity. He reached set point with a crackling backhand down the line that was unanswerable. Zverev met that moment commendably, unleashing a 136 MPH first serve out wide in the ad court. Djokovic’s blocked backhand return landed long. On the following point at deuce, Zverev went for broke with a dangerous 138 MPH second serve down the T, and Djokovic was unable to get it back into play. Zverev held on gamely for 5-5.
In the eleventh game, Djokovic found himself perched precariously at 15-40. He decided to serve-and-volley to the forehand and Zverev’s crosscourt return was wide. And then, at 30-40, Djokovic played a point that was so extraordinary he could only smile incredulously at what he had just done when it was over. Once more, he served-and-volleyed. Zverev’s backhand return was letter perfect, hit hard and low crosscourt. Djokovic stayed low, picked up the backhand half volley immaculately, and sent that shot sizzling down the line with improbable pace and excellent depth. On the run, Zverev had no play at all.
Djokovic took the next two points to hold on for 6-5 and then reached 0–30 in the following game. But Zverev swept four points in a row to reach a tie-break, producing a clutch backhand volley winner, putting away an overhead, releasing a superb service winner, and lacing a backhand winner down the line with cool precision.
Zverev outplayed Djokovic in the tie-break 7-4, benefitting from a double fault at 2-2 by Djokovic— the first all tournament long from the Serbian. Djokovic retaliated with a service break at 4-4 in the second set, and soon sealed the set. But, to the chagrin of himself and his legion of supporters, Djokovic played one poor game at 1-2 in the third set that cost him the whole match. He was broken in that game entirely on his own mistakes, making three unforced errors off the forehand and one off the backhand. Zverev was ahead 3-1. He was apprehensive at 4-2, taking too much off his first serve and cautiously steering his groundstrokes. But Zverev fended off one break point on another forehand unforced error from Djokovic, and came through to win 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3. Across the three sets, Zverev double faulted only once.
Despite the supreme physicality of that match, Zverev seemed fresh and unruffled in the final despite his losing streak against Medvedev. Truthfully, Medvedev had not played that well heading into the final. He opened with a 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 victory over Hurkacz, came within two points of defeat against Zverev and then saved two match points against alternate Jannik Sinner, who took Berrettini’s place and crushed Hurkacz in straight sets.
Understandably, Medvedev was concerned about preserving energy for his semifinal encounter when he faced Sinner in the round robin. But he took the first set comfortably before losing a tie-break in the second set. In the middle of the third set, down a break at 2-4, Medvedev was no longer interested in fighting through long and debilitating rallies. He started shortening points and hitting almost every second serve like a first delivery. Eventually, Medvedev somehow pulled out that match with his undervalued survival instincts, saving two match points in the third set tie-break, winning 6-1 6-7(5) 7-6(8).
The world No. 2 did perform more persuasively in a 6-4 6-2 semifinal dismissal of Casper Ruud, pulling off his only straight set win of the week. But in my view it was not enough to give him the unwavering confidence required to defeat Zverev in the final. In some ways, the situation reminded me of what happened a few weeks earlier at the Paris Masters 1000 event. Medvedev had made his way to the final with big point efficiency but he was not necessarily at the top of his game. He played a very good final against Djokovic, but the Serbian was clearly the better man on that important occasion. He succeeded in three sets.
This time around against Zverev, Medvedev knew full well that he had been fortunate to escape against the German in the round robin. Medvedev was also well aware that it is no simple task to beat the same player twice in a week at a tournament reserved for only the elite. In fact, prior to this title round appointment, the player who had lost in the round robin all through tournament history was triumphant when taking on the same player again in the final 10 out of 18 instances.
Zverev himself had achieved that feat once before, defeating Djokovic in a straight set final after losing to the Serbian in the round robin three years ago. Pete Sampras holds the record with three reversals of fortune in his five times as the champion at the ATP Finals. In 1994, 1996, and 1999 Sampras turned the tables on a prominent opponent to lift the trophy. He did it against Boris Becker in 1994 and 1996, and repeated that remarkable feat in 1999 against Andre Agassi.
Medvedev was fundamentally outplayed and out-served by Zverev on this occasion. Zverev was at his zenith and gave one of the greatest performances of his career. In ten service games against one of the sport’s premier practitioners on the return of serve, Zverev never even faced a break point. He won 33 of 40 points on his first serve (83%) and eight of fourteen on second serve (57%). Altogether Zverev connected with 74% of his first serves. In the round robin against Medvedev, Zverev made 79% of his first serves but his location and pinpoint precision were far superior in the final. As was the case against Djokovic in the penultimate round, Zverev served only one double fault in the final round match versus Medvedev.
So often in the past, Zverev’s confusion over how hard to hit his second serve has been a terrible hindrance, but this year in Turin he found considerably more clarity of mind and took no unnecessary risks. In the entire tournament, he produced only five double faults in his five matches. His averaged 75% on first serves for the tournament and held serve in 56 of 58 games for a 97% success rate. To be sure, the hardcourts in Turin were playing exceptionally fast and were a server’s domain. Djokovic was broken only three times in his four matches and Medvedev lost his serve only four times in five contests. But Zverev’s serve was the best of anyone in the field, and his ground game was impenetrable. He hardly missed against Djokovic and was awfully good from the backcourt against Medvedev in the final as well.
Zverev established early leads in both sets of this confrontation between two towering men who both stand at 6’6”, and the German never relinquished his authority throughout an impeccably played final on his side of the net. Incidentally, this was the first time the final was contested by two players without one of them being over 25 since David Nalbandian, 23, beat Roger Federer, 24, in 2005. Zverev is now 24 and Medvedev 25. That is a significant as a barometer for the future. Their best is yet to come. Moreover, in the FedEx Year-End ATP Rankings of 2021 just released, eight of the top ten are in their twenties; only Nadal, 35, and Djokovic, 34, are in their thirties. Eight of the top ten are 25 years of age or younger; the last time this happened was in 1995. That is not inconsequential.
In any case, Zverev made his move in the third game of the match. After Medvedev rallied from 0-40 to 30-40, the German profited from a fortunate winner off the net cord to secure a quick service break lead. He won 20 of 25 points on serve in that dominant set, and advertised his superiority on the day by taking a 23 stroke exchange with a scintillating forehand winner down the line that gave him a 5-3 lead. In every aspect of the game—from his serve, to his baseline prowess, to his agility at the net—Zverev was the decidedly better player.
In the second set, the script was much the same. Helped by a Medvedev double fault that created a 15-30 opening, Zverev broke at 30 in the first game and never looked back. He was taken to deuce in one service name before holding for 4-2, but otherwise was untroubled. Zverev served for the match at 5-4 and from 0-15 he never lost another point, closing out the contest with a second serve ace out wide in the deuce court. The scoreline was 6-4, 6-4 for Zverev but the gap between the two combatants was considerably larger than that.
Now we can imagine a future sparkling with possibilities among the captivating trio of Djokovic, Medvedev and Zverev. This is not to say that others will not be others in the conversation. Stefanos Tsitsipas had a spectacular first half of 2021, reaching the semifinals of the Australian Open, opening up a two sets to love lead in the French Open final before losing to Djokovic, and winning his first Masters 1000 title in Monte Carlo. By the end of the year he was ailing with an arm/elbow injury. Felix Auger-Aliassime made inroads this year and will improve enormously in 2022. Dominic Thiem will be back in the coming year looking for a second major title. Nadal just might surprise us all with a sweeping physical recovery.
But— the way I see it—the levers of control will largely belong to the three distinctive individuals from Serbia, Russia and Germany. They figure to be the pace setters over the next couple of years. It seems entirely possible that we are heading into a spellbinding stretch featuring a fellow in his mid-thirties who just might be the greatest tennis player of all time, and a couple of keynote performers in their mid-twenties trying to knock the Serbian off his pedestal. I am looking forward to watching it all unfold.
Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.
The International Olympic Committee And It’s Dismal Response To The Peng Shuai Case
As the tennis world intensifies its vocal campaign for information about Shuai following her disappearance, the Olympic Committee has refused to speak out against a country which will host one of their events and instead called for ‘silent diplomacy.’
On Thursday one of the most decorated Grand Slam champions in the history of women’s tennis became the latest name to call for urgent information concerning Peng Shuai to be released.
In a statement Serena Williams said she is ‘devastated’ over the news about the Chinese player and called for an investigation into the allegations which she has made. On November 2nd a post was published on Shuai’s Weibo account in which she accused a former senior political figure in her country of sexual assault and said they had a and-and-off affair over a 10-year period. That post was deleted within 30 minutes of it being published, restrictions were placed on Shuai’s Weibo account and she has not been seen in public since.
In a country where authorities are known to punish those who dare to criticise the government, Shuai’s disappearance has sparked concern from the entire sport who has vowed not to back down. The WTA, ATP and ITF have all issued statements calling for a proper investigation to be launched into the allegations and numerous players have used the hashtag ‘WhereIsPengShuai’ on Twitter.
The only sign of communication which has come from Shuai within the past two weeks is a dubious letter that was uploaded on Twitter by CGTV, a Chinese news outlet which is controlled by the Publicity Department of China’s ruling Communist Party. In it, she allegedly sent an email saying she never wrote those allegations and she is not missing. However, many have questioned the legitimacy of the letter. Including Steve Simon who is the head of the WTA.
“I have a hard time believing that Peng Shuai actually wrote the email we received or believes what is being attributed to her. Peng Shuai displayed incredible courage in describing an allegation of sexual assault against a former top official in the Chinese government. The WTA and the rest of the world need independent and verifiable proof that she is safe. I have repeatedly tried to reach her via numerous forms of communication, to no avail.” Simon commented.
Tennis is showing no signs of backing down when it comes to challenging the Chinese government and even Amnesty International has issued a statement expressing their concerns. It appears that the international community has a united front when it comes to Shuai but there is one significant anomaly.
The International Olympic Committee is perhaps one of the most influential boards in the world of sport. It is they who assign Olympics Games to various countries and is the governing body of more than 200 Olympic committees worldwide. Whilst Simon issued a statement expressing his doubts about if Shuai had written the letter, the I.O.C had a somewhat different response.
“We have seen the latest reports and are encouraged by assurances that she is safe,” an official declaration read on Thursday.
It appears that the I.O.C is reluctant to get involved in the situation despite the influence they have. Next year the winter Olympics will be held in China and it is the job of the committee to make sure the country operates in a fair and safe way related to the Games. One of their core values is ‘to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement.’
In a separate statement issued to Inside The Games, the I.O.C suggested that the best way to deal with the Shuai case is to remain silent.
“Experience shows that quiet diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution for questions of such nature,” they said.
“This explains why the IOC will not comment any further at this stage.”
In reality, the I.O.C is reluctant to meddle in anything related to China and its government which doesn’t have an impact on the upcoming Olympic Games. The fact a former Olympian has gone missing after accusing a government official of sexual assault appears to be of no interest to them.
This is not the first time the I.O.C has refused to stand up against China. Just a couple weeks ago a senior member dismissed calls that the country should be challenged over its human rights record before the 2022 Games. IOC Vice President John Coates was recently asked about the allegations of genocide against Uighurs and other Muslim minority groups in the country.
“We are not a world government. We have to respect the sovereignty of the countries who are hosting the games,” he replied.
Pressed further about his stance, Coates basically admitted that the focus of the I.O.C is only on making sure that no human rights violations are committed related to the Games.
“The I.O.C’s remit is to ensure that there is no human rights abuses in respect of the conduct of the Games within the National Olympic Committees or within the Olympic movement,” he said.
“We have no ability to go into a country and tell them what to do. All we can do is to award the Olympics to a country, under conditions set out in a host contract … and then ensure they are followed.”
The I.O.C does many good things for the sport in showcasing what is one of the greatest sporting events in the world. However, their calls for ‘silent diplomacy’ concerning Shuai and reluctance to question the legitimacy of her letter can only been seen as an unwillingness to criticise a country which will hold one of their events.
Fortunately for Shuai, Tennis is not afraid to make this challenge.
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