Chinese media have shared what they say is an email to world tennis bosses from women’s star Peng Shuai, who had not been heard from since she reportedly accused a former government official of sexually assaulting her.
Peng, a former top-ranked doubles player, is said to have made the assault accusations against ex-Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli in a post on Chinese social media site Weibo earlier this month.
In the post from the 35-year-old’s account, it was claimed that Peng had been “forced” into a sexual relationship with Zhang and that the pair later had an on-off consensual relationship.
READ MORE: ‘Very, very scary’: Female tennis ace ‘disappears’ days after accusing ex-Chinese Communist Party chief of sexual assault
The post was later deleted and Peng was not heard from, prompting concerns for her well-being.
However, on Wednesday Chinese media outlet CGTN shared what they said was an email from Peng to officials at the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
“Hello everyone this is Peng Shuai,” began the message.
“Regarding the recent news released on the official website of the WTA, the content has not been confirmed or verified by myself and it was released without my consent.
“The news in that release, including the allegation of sexual assault, is not true. I’m not missing, nor am I unsafe. I’ve just been resting at home and everything is fine. Thank you again for caring about me.
“If the WTA publishes any more news about me, please verify it with me, and release it with my consent.
“As a professional tennis player, I thank you all for your companionship and consideration.
“I hope to promote Chinese tennis with you all if I have the chance in the future. I hope Chinese tennis will become better and better.
“Once again, thank you for your consideration.”
Some reacted skeptically to the message, with New York Times tennis writer Ben Rothenburg calling it “deeply dubious.”
“This is even worse than not hearing from her, if that’s possible,” claimed one fan.
WTA boss Steve Simon had previously described the situation with Peng as being of “deep concern.”
“We expect this issue to be handled properly, meaning the allegations must be investigated fully, fairly, transparently and without censorship,” he said.
Before Wednesday’s report from CGTN, the WTA had also said it had “received confirmation from several sources, including the Chinese Tennis Association, that [Peng] is safe and not under any physical threat.
“My understanding is that she is in Beijing in China, but I can’t confirm that because I haven’t spoken directly with her,” Simon added.
Meanwhile, four-time women’s Grand Slam queen Naomi Osaka became the latest high-profile name to voice her concerns this week, tweeting that she was “in shock” at the reports that Peng had disappeared.
“I hope Peng Shuai and her family are safe and ok. I’m in shock of the current situation and I’m sending love and light her way,” wrote Osaka.
Peng is currently ranked number 191 in the world in singles, but is a hero in her homeland after becoming the first Chinese player to achieve a top global ranking when she rose to world number one in the doubles in 2014.
She captured doubles titles at Wimbledon in 2013 and the French Open the following year.
In the singles, she boasts a career-high of number 14 in the world and reached the US Open semi-finals in 2014.
The man behind the purported sex assault allegations, former Communist official Zhang, is now 75. He served as vice premier between 2013 and 2018, and on the Politburo Standing Committee from 2012 to 2017.