Naomi Osaka leads calls for more information on Peng Shuai's wellbeing

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Japan's Naomi Osaka before her second round match against Madison Brengle of the U.S. - REUTERS
Japan's Naomi Osaka before her second round match against Madison Brengle of the U.S. - REUTERS

Women's tennis players have said they are desperate to find out more about Peng Shuai's wellbeing, after Naomi Osaka called the ongoing questions around her safety "scary".

The Australian Open defending champion, who was one of the first players to speak out about Peng's situation last November, said on Wednesday that she felt compelled to show solidarity with the Chinese star who has not been seen in public since December 19, following her accusation of sexual assault by a former Communist Party leader.

Osaka joined Victoria Azarenka in calling for more information: "I feel like if I was in her position, I would want people to care for me too," said the 24-year-old, speaking after her second round victory at the Australian Open. "It's one of those things. Like I imagine myself in her shoes, and in that way, it's a little bit scary. But you want to lend your voice and you want people to ask the questions."

Peng, the former world no. 1 doubles player, has not played on tour since February 2020 but her absence in Melbourne this fortnight is not going unnoticed. World no.1 Ash Barty said "We're all looking out for her safety”, while Nick Kyrgios said on Tuesday that players were "obligated" to use their platforms to raise awareness.

Azarenka, a two-time champion at the Australian Open, and a member of the WTA Player Council, said the "main goal" of the women’s association was to hear from Peng soon.

"There hasn't been that much development in terms of contact with Peng Shuai even though from our side we will continue to make any and all efforts to make sure that she is safe, she feels comfortable," said Azarenka, after progressing to the third round in Melbourne.

"Hopefully we will get to hear from her personally at some point. I think that's the goal, the main goal right now. As an association, women's association, I am proud that we are supporting our players. I think that kind of should go without saying. The situation is really unfortunate. We all hope for the best. We will see what happens in terms of logistics."

The WTA suspended all tournaments due to be held in China this season, including the WTA Finals in Shenzhen. Azarenka revealed that alternative plans to replace China’s multiple WTA fixtures are still "up in the air".

"The process is obviously not public at the moment because there is no certainties or any decisions or substitutions that are in play," she said. "The process is there. As soon as we have more concrete information, it will definitely be shared. But right now it's still up in the air. Our council is very much involved. We don't let any questions go by. I think you would know that from my personality."

In November Peng was censured by Chinese authorities, after taking to social media to accuse a former Communist Party leader of sexual assault. After her online footprint was subsequently wiped in China, a campaign with the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai erupted worldwide.

On December 19 she was filmed by Singapore newspaper Lianhe Zaobao, and denied ever making the accusations against former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, saying there were "misunderstandings". It was the last known sighting of her.

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