Women’s tennis will return to China after a four-year absence this autumn for the first time since the disappearance of former doubles world No 1 Peng Shuai
According to Sportsmail, the women’s tour has decided to take seven tournaments to China in September and October followed by the season-ending WTA Finals, which will be held in Shenzhen, with an announcement thought to be imminent.
The WTA suspended relations with China and all tournaments to be staged in the country in December 2021 in protest at Peng’s apparent disappearance the previous month, with chief executive Steve Simon saying the decision was made to show solidarity with women all over the world.
The former doubles world number one had caused an international outcry by writing an explosive 1600-word essay on social media platform Weibo, in which she claimed that former Chinese vice-premier Zhang Gaoli had repeatedly forced her into sex over a period of several years.
Peng was not seen in public for several weeks following the extraordinary claims, which she later retracted, leading to widespread suspicion that she had been forced to back down on her claims by the Chinese government.
Following several statements released by Chinese state media denying the allegations the 37-year-old finally gave an interview to L’Equipe in February 2020 in which it was claimed that her social media post as “an enormous misunderstanding” and that she was retiring from tennis.
Since making a brief public appearance at the Beijing Winter Olympics Peng’s whereabouts have continued to be a mystery despite repeated attempts by WTA officials to meet her.
In announcing their 2023 calendar towards the end of last year the WTA only scheduled tournaments up to the US Open in September.
Simon has previously said that his organisation would only return to China if officials were able to stage a face-to-face meeting with Peng, although it is unclear whether this has taken place.
In January this year, WTA officials said they had received confirmation that Peng was safe, but had yet to meet her.
The WTA will stage tournaments in eight Chinese cities including Beijing, Guangzhou, and Wuhan before finishing the season in Shenzhen.