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Novak Djokovic was voiced his conerns over the ‘shocking and terrible’ disappearance of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai. The 35-year-old reportedly went missing after uploading a social media post where she made allegations about former Chinese Communist Party chief Zhang Gaoli.
The post, which alleged Zhang had sexually assaulted her, and tried to force her to have sex with him, was removed by Weibo within minutes before reports emerged that she was missing.
WTA boss Steve Simon has claimed sources have told the association that the player is safe and well, but was also forced to admit that officials had been unable to make direct contact with her.
Shuai, who in 2011 reached a career high ranking of world no 14, is a former US Open semi-finalist and has also won doubles titles at both the French Open and Wimbledon.
She has often crossed paths with Djokovic, and the 20-time Grand Slam champion has joined a growing number of high-profile player to express concerns over her safety.
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“It’s shocking and terrible that she’s missing,” the Serb superstar said of the former world number 14.
“More so that it’s someone I have seen on the tour quite a few times in the previous years. I hope she will be found.”
On November 2, Peng took to Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Facebook, to accuse Gaoli of sexual assault, and described an on-and-off consensual relationship with the 75-year-old.
However, the post was removed by Weibo within minutes, while searches of her name and even the word ‘tennis’ were subsequently blocked.
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On Sunday, WTA Chairman and CEO Simon released a statement saying the women’s tour was seeking a “full, fair and transparent investigation into sexual assault allegations against former Chinese leader and also calls for end of censorship against Peng Shuai.”
He added “The recent events in China concerning a WTA player, Peng Shuai, are of deep concern. As an organisation dedicated to women, we remain committed to the principles we were founded on – equality, opportunity and respect.
“Peng Shuai, and all women, deserve to be heard, not censored. Her accusation about the conduct of a former Chinese leader involving a sexual assault must be treated with the utmost seriousness.
“In all societies, the behaviour she alleges that took place needs to be investigated, not condoned or ignored. We commend Peng Shuai for her remarkable courage and strength in coming forward. Women around the world are finding their voices so injustices can be corrected.”
Tennis legend Martina Navratilova responded to the statement by tweeting: “A very strong stance by WTA – and the correct stance!”
Billie Jean King also weighed in with “Hoping that Peng Shuai is found safe and that her accusations are fully investigated,” she said.
Zhang has not responded to the claims made by Shaui on social media.
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