More than three months after she made allegations of sexual assault against former Vice Premier of China Zhang Gaoli, Peng Shuai has spoken to independent western media for the first time.
In an interview with French outlet L'Equipe, Peng addressed the events of the last three months. After she levied the allegations on Chinese social media site Weibo, concerns arose over her safety as she disappeared from the public eye.
After a viral social media outrage campaign from fans and prominent tennis players, including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka sharing their concerns, Peng Shuai was finally spotted in public a month after her supposed disappearance.
She also spoke to Chinese journalists soon after, denying the original allegations strongly and saying that they were blown out of proportion.
The latest interview also went along the same lines. While she thanked all those who flocked to her support, the Chinese said she was not sure why it was necessary in the first place since she had never "disappeared".
"First of all, I would like to thank all the ATP and WTA players, all the athletes and all the personalities in large numbers who cared about me," Shuai said. "But I didn’t think there would be such concern and I would like to know: why such concern? I never disappeared, everyone could see me.”
She once again reminded fans that the assault allegations were not true. In fact, Peng stressed that she had deleted her post on Weibo of her own accord because it was leading to a "huge misunderstanding".
"[My post on Weibo] has given rise to a huge misunderstanding from the outside world," Peng said. "I hope that we no longer distort the meaning of this post. I never said anyone sexually assaulted me."
"I thought the statement from the WTA was a bit exaggerated" - Peng Shuai
When asked why she took so long to establish contact with the outside world, Peng Shuai remarked that it was simply because of the overwhelming number of messages that were addressed to her. However, she disclosed that she had "always remained in close contact" with her friends.
The 36-year-old further added that she had wanted to convey the news that she was safe earlier to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), but was prevented from doing so by a malfunction on their website. According to Peng, it was a problem that many players encountered at the end of 2021.
"It’s just that a lot of people, like my friends, including from the IOC, messaged me, and it was quite impossible to reply to so many messages. But with my close friends, I always remained in close contact," Peng said. "I also discussed this with the WTA. But, at the end of the year, their website’s communication computer was changed and many players had difficulty logging in at that time."
The WTA's chairman and CEO Steve Simon has been vocal about Peng Shuai's supposed disappearance and the attempts of censorship from the start. Unsatisfied with how the Chinese authorities were handling the situation as a whole, the WTA decided to suspend all tournaments in China in a widely-acclaimed stance of solidarity.
The former doubles World No. 1, however, regarded the statements as "exaggerated". Peng Shuai expanded on the email she had sent to Simon, the veracity of which was questioned by the organization.
The two-time doubles Grand Slam champion revealed that she had forwarded the same email to her fellow players on WeChat, thus proving that it had indeed been sent by her.
"Like everyone, like you, I saw the statement on the official WTA website. [After reading the statement] I thought that was a bit exaggerated. So I responded to WTA president Steve Simon myself," Peng said. "The same evening, I also sent it by WeChat to my colleagues in the players’ department in order to personally confirm that I was the author of the messages sent from my work email.”