Novak Djokovic Australian Open threat confirmed while concerns remain over Peng Shuai

Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai

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The ATP and WTA seasons have officially come to a close for 2021. The season-ending championships for both tours concluded last week, with Alexander Zverev lifting his second Nitto ATP Finals trophy in Turin, while Garbine Muguruza won her first at the AKRON WTA Finals in Guadalajara.

The Australian Open also finally confirmed the news that had been rumoured for several months, that all players would need to be vaccinated in order to compete in January’s season-opening Grand Slam, leaving nine-time champion Novak Djokovic in doubt to play.

Elsewhere, concerns have been growing in the tennis community and beyond for Peng Shuai after former world No 1 doubles player had been missing since accusing China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a Weibo post shared on November 2.

China’s state media has since posted photos and videos alleging they are current images of Peng, while the player told the International Olympic Committee she was “safe and well” in a video call on Sunday. Though WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon remains concerned for her freedom and safety, and is threatening to pull all tour events out of China.

Express Sport takes a look back at the biggest news stories on and off the tennis court from the past week.

#WhereIsPengShaui – concerns grow as WTA chief threatens Chinese tennis

The disappearance of former doubles No 1 Peng Shuai has rocked the world recently, as no one had seen or heard from the tennis player for almost three weeks, after she accused China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a lengthy Weibo post on November 2.

In the post, which was removed within half an hour, Peng alleged she had an on-off-extra marital affair with Zhang for several years before he cut ties with her as he rose through the ranks in China’s communist party.

Several years later, Peng claims, Zhang invited her to his and his wife’s house to play tennis, which is when Peng alleges she was sexually assaulted by Zhang.

Zhang has not responded to the allehation, though a spokesperson for Beijing’s foreign ministry denied all knowledge of it when asked about the subject, saying: “I have not heard of it and it is not a diplomatic question.”

With concerns for her whereabouts and freedom growing, tennis players including Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have spoken out to share their worries.

JUST IN: Zverev slammed for requesting Djokovic Australian Open ban exemption

The United Nations and the White House have also stepped in, joining the WTA in calling for independent verification of Peng’s safety and whereabouts, as well as an investigation into her allegation, while WTA CEO and Chairman Steve Simon has also continued to threaten to remove all tour events from China if he does not get independent verification of Peng’s safety and freedom, as well as a full and fair investigation into her sexual abuse claims.

In recent days, China’s state-affiliated media have shared several social media posts to account for the 35-year-old, including a statement allegedly written by Peng claiming the allegation was fake and saying she was safe and resting at home, photos she allegedly sent to a friend via WeChat on Friday (November 19), and a video showing the Chinese tennis star out for dinner at a restaurant with her coach and friends, claiming the footage was filmed on Saturday (November 20).

However, Simon has continued to voice his concerns, saying shortly after the video was released: “While it is positive to see her, it remains unclear if she is free and able to make decisions and take actions on her own, without coercion or external interference. This video alone is insufficient. As I have stated from the beginning, I remain concerned about Peng Shuai’s health and safety and that the allegation of sexual assault is being censored and swept under the rug.”

On Sunday (November 21), the International Olympic Committee confirmed their president had spoken with Peng in a half-hour video call, with the tennis player saying she was “safe and well” but the IOC’s statement did not address Peng’s previous sexual assault allegation, and the star is yet to speak with Steve Simon who previously said: “I request she be allowed to leave the country or speak live via teleconference with me with no one else present, unless it is with Peng’s permission.”

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Australian Open confirms vaccine mandate – leaving Novak Djokovic facing ban threat

On Saturday, Tennis Australia boss and Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley announced that proof of full vaccination would be mandatory for all players competing in the 2022 edition of the tournament in January, saying: “There’s a lot of speculation about vaccination and just to be really clear, when the Premier announced that everyone on site will need to be vaccinated, we made that clear to the playing group.”

It derails Djokovic’s quest for a record 21st Major title, as the Serb had previously admitted he was unsure whether he’d compete as he refuses to disclose his vaccination status.

Tiley addressed the concerns of the tournament’s nine-time champion in his announcement, saying he had spoken with the world No 1 and his team, making it clear that they would all need to be vaccinated.

“I know that he wants to play it, he’s clearly indicated that and he knows the conditions that he’d have to undergo in order to be eligible to play,” the Tennis Australia chief said.

Meanwhile, Djokovic has remained ambiguous on his participation and refused to confirm that he would be playing Down Under.

The Serb previously told reporters at the Paris Masters that he would not comment on the matter again until a final decision was confirmed, and when he was asked whether he’d go to Melbourne following Tiley’s statement, he said: “We’ll see. I haven’t been talking to them [Tennis Australia], to be honest. I was just waiting to hear what the news is going to be. Now that I know, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Alexander Zverev ends Novak Djokovic’s season and gets Daniil Medvedev revenge en route to second Nitto ATP Finals title

The season officially wrapped up on Sunday with Alexander Zverev defeating Daniil Medvedev in the final match of the year to win the Nitto ATP Finals.

The German had suffered a narrow defeat to the 2020 champion during the group stage in the week, as Medvedev won 6-4 6-7(3) 7-6(6) in the round robin on Tuesday.

Zverev still came second in the Red Group and made it to Saturday’s semi-final to face Djokovic, ending the world No 1’s incredible 2021 season by defeating him 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3, producing a dominant display that left the 20-time Major champion looking lost at times.

He then faced defending champion and world No 2 Medvedev in the final, with the Russian having won their previous five meetings and still in the midst of a nine-match winning streak at the ATP Finals.

However, it was Zverev who came out on top in their third match in 15 days – with Medvedev winning earlier in the week in Turin and in the recent Paris Masters semi-final – as he enjoyed an incredible serving day to dominate the 2020 champion and win his second Nitto ATP Finals title in four years, taking the match 6-4 6-4.

Garbine Muguruza wins one-off Guadalajara WTA Finals while injuries plague ATP year-end championships

The WTA Tour also came to its conclusion last week, with Garbine Muguruza and Anett Kontaveit facing off in the final match of the season on Wednesday.

The WTA Finals, usually hosted in Shenzhen, was staged in Guadalajara, Mexico as a one-off this year, as the usual host city was unable to welcome players due to Covid.

Muguruza had already beaten Kontaveit in the final round-robin match, winning 6-4 6-4 to end the Estonian’s stunning 12-match winning streak, that saw her win back-to-back titles in Moscow and Linz.

It wasn’t third time lucky for the world No 7 though, as former world No 1 Muguruza defeated her for the second time in a week, 6-3 7-5, to win the title in front of a supportive crowd.

Off the back of the current situation surrounding Peng Shuai, many have called for Guadalajara to stage the tournament in the event that the WTA pulls the season-ending championships out of China.

Meanwhile, both alternates were called in to compete in Turin, after Matteo Berrettini picked up an injury during his opening round-robin match against Alexander Zverev and was forced to withdraw from the competition later on, meaning countryman Jannik Sinner took his place and defeated Hubert Hurkacz before falling to Medvedev.

World No 4 Stefanos Tsitsipas also pulled out ahead of his second round-robin match – having lost his first to Andrey Rublev – with an elbow injury that also saw him retire from the recent Paris Masters, so Brit Cameron Norrie was able to make his ATP Finals debut, but lost to Ruud and Djokovic in the group rounds.

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