Peng Shuai shook the tennis community and the world at large to its core when she leveled sexual assault allegations against Zhang Gaoli, a senior Chinese politician. Since November 2021, when she first made this claim, she has been caught in the eye of the storm.
In a recent interview with L'Equipe, she clarified everything regarding the allegations and the ensuing fallout from the ordeal. During the same interview, Peng also announced her retirement. In the midst of valid concerns regarding her safety, her accomplishments have taken a backseat. So it's time to look back on her time as a tennis player since she has officially called it quits.
The Chinese star had an extremely successful career. While her achievements in doubles overshadowed her triumphs in singles, she nevertheless carved out a niche for herself as a formidable opponent across both disciplines.
Peng Shuai turned pro in 2001 after grinding it out for several years in the lower echelons of the sport. She made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon in 2004 but lost in the first round to Silvia Farina Elia. Despite a disappointing start on the main tour, she recorded some good results later in the year, reaching her first career quarterfinal at the Cincinnati Open and then at the Guangzhou Open. She ended the year ranked at No. 73.
At the beginning of 2005, Peng had to fight a battle off the court. She decided to cut ties with her country's sponsored tennis program, under which she had to give away half her earnings. She, along with other players, threatened to stop playing completely and eventually got their way.
Peng made a solid start in 2005, reaching the first semifinal of her career at the Sydney International. Later in the year she reached the semifinals in San Diego, defeating Kim Clijsters en route. In 2006, she reached her first career final at the Strasbourg Open.
Over the next few years she remained a consistent presence in the top 50 of the rankings, posting some decent results. In 2010, Peng had her worst season since 2004, winning just 15 matches and ending the year ranked 72nd. However, she won the gold medal in singles at the Asian Games, another gold in the team event and bronze in doubles.
The Chinese star had the best season of her career in 2011. She reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam for the first time at the Australian Open and did the same at Wimbledon and the US Open. She also reached her first final at the Premier level (now known as the WTA 500), losing to Caroline Wozniacki in three tough sets.
The string of good results propelled her to a career-high ranking of number 14. With a 48-21 record for the year, she concluded the season ranked 17th, her best ever year-end finish.
Peng couldn't match the highs of her 2011 season over the next couple of years. However, in 2014 she caught everyone's attention at the US Open. She reached the final four in dominant fashion, securing wins over fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska, 28th seed Roberta Vinci, 14th seed Lucie Safarova and Belinda Bencic without dropping a set.
Unfortunately, after playing so well throughout the tournament, Peng Shuai's body betrayed her in the semifinals. She had to retire from her match against Wozniacki in the second set due to severe cramping and had to be escorted off court in a wheelchair. The 2014 US Open remains her best Grand Slam performance in singles.
Injuries hampered her progress for the next two years, with her ranking plummeting to 872 in 2015. But she made a successful comeback, winning her first singles title at the 2016 Tianjin Open and her second in 2017 at the Jiangxi Open.
Peng Shuai didn't compete much in 2018 and 2019, participating in just nine tournaments each in those two years. 2020 turned out to be her final year on tour. After competing in a couple of events at the start of the season, she fell in the first round of the Doha Open qualifiers in February. That turned out to be the last singles match of her career.
Peng Shuai's accomplishments in doubles dwarf her singles achievements
Over the course of her career Peng Shuai became a force to be reckoned with in doubles. She made her Grand Slam debut in the discipline at the 2004 US Open, where she reached the quarterfinals.
She reached her first final in doubles at the 2007 Charleston Open and won her maiden title at the Guangzhou Open later that year. Good friend Hsieh Su-wei was the partner with whom she had the most success in doubles. They teamed up towards the end of the 2008 season and won the the Commonwealth Bank Tennis Classic.
They started 2009 by winning the Sydney International and recorded their best Grand Slam result by reaching the semifinals of the 2009 French Open. They also won the biggest titles of their careers up to that point at the Italian Open and the China Open.
Peng Shuai and Hsieh Su-wei went their separate ways in 2010, but reunited once again in 2013 to roaring success. They won the Italian Open once again and a few weeks later went on to win their first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. The duo qualified for the WTA Finals for the first time and won it as well. They won a total of five titles that year and the Chinese ended the year ranked No. 4.
They continued to have success in 2014 as well. Following the duo's victory at the Qatar Open, Peng Shuai ascended to the top of the rankings and became the first player from China, of either gender across singles and doubles, to be ranked World No. 1.
The pair won their second Grand Slam title at Roland Garros and were runners-up at the WTA Finals at the end of the year. Once again, they finished the season with five titles.
The pair split up in 2015, but that was due to Peng Shuai's injuries. Following her comeback in 2016, the Chinese star won two titles. At the start of the 2017 season, she partnered with Andrea Hlavackova and found immediate success, winning the Shenzhen Open and reaching the finals of the Australian Open and the Dubai Open.
In her last couple of years on the tour, Peng enjoyed modest success. She won two titles in 2019 and in 2020, she reached the final of the Hobart International. She played the final match of her career at the Qatar Open, losing in the second round.
Peng Shuai won 23 doubles titles in her glittering career, including 2 Grand Slams and the WTA Finals. She won two singles titles and was the runner-up on seven occasions. Along with Li Na, Zhang Shuai and Zheng Jie, Shuai Peng helped put Chinese tennis on the map with her accomplishments.
To quote Peng herself, "Even if I no longer participate in professional competitions, I will always be a tennis player." So it's time we remember what a great competitor Peng Shuai was, to celebrate her career, and to hope that she finds some peace after everything that has happened.