#WhereIsPengShuai — Quotes from the WTA Finals champs — Must-click women’s tennis links

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, November 23, 2021

Happy Tuesday, everyone! Like I mentioned last week, today I’m going to talk about the biggest story in women’s tennis and perhaps even sport — Peng Shuai.

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Shuai is the first player from China to ascend to the No. 1 ranking (in doubles) and also captured two Grand Slams and a WTA Finals trophy in the discipline. In singles, she reached No. 14 following a semifinal run at the 2014 US Open. She hasn’t played since March 2020, just before COVID shutdown the tour, and she sits at No. 307 in singles and No. 192 in doubles. I admit I had been wondering what had been going on with her as many Chinese and other Asian players were staying active, but Shuai was silent. However, I don’t think I expected this narrative to unfold. It’s a Hollywood movie script.

For those who aren’t aware, on November 2nd, Shuai accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in a Weibo post. The post was then taken down and Shuai was essentially scrubbed from the Chinese internet. She then hadn’t been seen or heard publicly for the next two weeks, which sparked the hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai. Alize Cornet was the first player to put anything on social media and honestly should be commended for going out of her way to say anything. Dozens more, both men and women, across numerous industries, started using the hashtag to bring more awareness. Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams, Enes Kanter and Gerard Pique were among those showing their support on Twitter. Among those who need some PR training? The ITF:

On November 14, WTA CEO Steve Simon posted his first statement, asking for a fair and thorough investigation into the sexual assault claims. I admit, I wasn’t sure how much the WTA would dive into this, given the billion dollar investment China has in the game of women’s tennis. Let’s be honest, in the past, WTA has played it safe when it comes to any feather ruffling of stakeholders. It looked a lot like that in the beginning, with the tour taking 12 days to mutter out any statement. Then, shit starting hitting the fan late last week.

An “email” from Shuai was sent to Steve Simon on November 18th, which was dubious at best. The entire world saw through the statement, which included a redaction. There was no way of knowing if Shuai was the one who sent that email, but it looked incredibly suspect and most likely created by the Chinese government. This situation was beginning to snowball into a true global incident. Steve Simon quickly released another statement and also spoke to various outlets and said what most were hoping: he has no issue pulling out of China.

Conveniently, with pressure from the Western world, Chinese media posted a video of Shuai eating at a restaurant (and eventually at a local children’s tennis clinic), but again, the public wasn’t buying it. In the restaurant video, Shuai wasn’t even talking at all and a man in the video made sure to say the date loud enough because obviously. As previously with other new developments, the WTA released another statement on behalf of Steve Simon. China continued to bump heads with the rest of the world regarding the case and brought out their own highest-prolific political stunt yet: a video chat between Shuai and Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee’s President.

Now, can everyone see through this bullshit? The Beijing Winter Olympics are in three months and this call was clearly just to attempt to put everyone at ease. In fact, it only solidified some people’s thoughts that the IOC was choosing money and greed over athlete safety. If you were ever on the fence, the IOC — or at least Bach — didn’t do themselves any favors when this tweet came to surface:

China continues to deflect and denounce this whole episode, calling it a “diplomatic matter.” Though not wrong, it’s also a human rights issue. I really have to commend Steve Simon and the entire WTA organization for how they’ve handled this situation. They have a lot to lose by potentially divesting from China — something I say they should do. You’re either complicit and enabling China to continue their abusive system or take a stand and show the entire world what you’re about. The WTA was founded on taking a stand! This is the perfect opportunity for the tour to reclaim a lot of the power that many think they sold to China. But it’s complicated: players are essentially independent contractors and the money potentially being taken away could be detrimental for the tournaments, players and staff that make up the WTA. They could also be the beginning of a revolution of sporting organizations choosing humanity over lining their pockets.

On the other side of the coin, how about we look at the success story of the AKRON WTA Finals Guadalajara? Sure, the money was a lot less than offered in 2019 in Shenzhen, but the crowd and atmosphere were unbelievable. A packed, outdoor stadium riddled with buzz and a mariachi band gave the WTA’s “crown jewel” the attention it deserves. Guadalajara was the perfect test-run for a post-China WTA. Is a $14mm purse great for the Finals? Absolutely, but it’s not needed. The WTA is holding off on putting out their 2022 calendar until — I’m assuming — there’s some progress here, but 10 tournaments are projected to be held in China as of now. There are so many cities across Europe and the Americas that would kill to have those tournament sanctions, especially those that were seen as a one-off. Chicago, I’m looking at you. I would love to see countries like Argentina, Czech Republic, Estonia, Ukraine, Great Britain (outside of the grass season), Spain and Brazil be afforded more opportunities to showcase their culture in tennis.

The WTA may be at their most significant crossroads, but Steve Simon is being quite an effective leader. For now, he’s in a place to be praised, but we’re definitely close to needing to make a final decision. I think it’s pretty clear once the players spoke out. Countries will be flocking to take those tournament sanctions and while it may not be the glitzy money China promises, it won’t be dirty money. With the calendar needing to be released, I say put China on a one-year suspension immediately and move the tournaments elsewhere. That’s the safe option, to me, but if it were up to me, I would just completely divest. The WTA has taken their stance, but they need to be the one to pull the trigger first. We’re past the point of waiting and then reacting, a strategy they use time and time again.

We’ve come a long way, baby, but we may be witnessing an extreme pivot that will affect the WTA’s history and trajectory. I hope they can not only continue being the leader in women’s sport, but in this specific scenario, they can be the catalyst for some worldwide change.

This Week in Women’s Tennis

I would usually recap the WTA Finals as it’s own subject, but I think this week’s topic is a tad more important. With that said, Garbine Muguruza left Guadalajara as the singles champion. She was my pick from the start to take it all with some good tennis this season, but also the fact she shines in Latin America — and specifically Mexico. She took out surprise finalist, hell surprise participant Anett Kontaveit in the final. The doubles title went to Katerina Siniakova and Barbora Krejcikova, who knocked out Hsieh Su-Wei and Elise Mertens. My favorite part, however, was Krejcikova’s speech acknowledging the Czech Velvet Revolution:

At the Montevideo Open, a WTA 125k event in Uraguay, Diane Parry captured the biggest title of her career with a win over Panna Udvardy. The doubles title went to Irina Bara and Ekaterine Gorgodze, who brought their record as a duo to 15-1 — their only loss being last week in a W60 ITF semifinal.

Some WTA reading for you to enjoy — three pieces from WTA Insider on the WTA Finals, Anett Kontaveit and Iga Swiatek’s coach Piotr Sierzputowski. Greg Garber rounds out the group with a spotlight on Garbine Muguruza.

The year-end rankings were released and the WTA shared a By The Numbers segment detailing everything from the six Top 10 debutants to the biggest climbers of the year.

Joel Drucker of tennis.com has some unique changes to the game when it comes to on-court coaching.

The World Team Tennis season is underway and Five at The IX alum Sabrina Santamaria is killing it:

The incredible Colette Lewis of zootennis.com caught up with Five at The IX alum Catherine Harrison, who is finding some great recent form that’s encouraging her decision to stick with the tour following the COVID-19 shutdown.

Serena Williams’ impact off of the tennis court is insurmountable, but its her Serena Ventures, with a $33B (yes, that’s a B) market cap that could possibly be her biggest one yet.

I saw King Richard a few days ago and will be giving my review of the film in a few weeks, but you could really tell delicate details of the film that were incorporated by the family. Isha Price served as a producer throughout the entire filming run, which I think was a brilliant move.

More mixed doubles is something we all know I’m an advocate for, but I’m also here for it’s incorporation in the college tennis scene:

Tweet of the Week

Happy belated to an icon, a legend, and forever the moment, Billie Jean King:

Five at The IX: WTA Finals Champions

Q. You were talking about this opportunity of playing the tournament in Latin America, once-in-a-lifetime thing. It could maybe never happen again. How were you able to keep that from being pressure? How were you able to keep that excitement about the event from being a positive space rather than weighing you down or adding stress?

GARBINE MUGURUZA: I mean, I felt everything. I was stressed at the beginning because I wanted to do so well. I had a tough group. I didn’t start well. But I was like, Okay, calm down, you wanted to be here, this is your dream, you are here, you still have a chance, so be quiet for a little bit, stop complaining, just keep fighting, hold there, hold to your little chances you might have.

Me and Conchi, we were speaking. We were just seeing all the good and positive things. I know we lost, but we’re here. You have a chance. We’re not leaving from Guadalajara without just giving it all.

Look where I am now with that mentality, keeping positive. I made it.

Q. Does it feel like that? Not just this tournament, but this year? You’re going to be No. 3 in the rankings on Monday. Does this feel like putting a stamp back, like, I’m back in it?

GARBINE MUGURUZA: I mean, I think for the people from the outside, they kind of feel like, Oh, Muguruza is playing well again.

I mean, it is true that the last couple of years I didn’t play the same way I played before. But I didn’t play a bad tennis either. I was just here, there, not going into the deep rounds at Grand Slams that made the difference. I always felt I had the tennis. I was just not putting the battle together.

I always believe I made finals of a Grand Slam, reached the rankings, I’m like, I have the tennis, I just have to show it. It’s hard, of course.

This is just another proof that I think I’m actually in the best moment of my career. The experience I have now, the tennis, the way I handle myself, I think it’s actually much better than before.

Q. Can you reflect about your season? You had a strong start to the year, then some struggles, then you finish in great style.

GARBINE MUGURUZA: I mean, I think it’s a very good season overall. Won three titles. I think it’s the year that I’ve won the most titles and made finals also. I felt like a very stable year with myself also.

Of course, there is a little ups and downs, injuries and stuff. Overall I think it’s the best year for me. I might not have won a Grand Slam, but I deeply feel like I’ve been happier and more stable, less dramatic, and in general very happy about it.

Q. Katerina, what do you think was the key? You went undefeated throughout the week. With Barbora playing singles as well, there was a lot for you to do to help her out, have the energy.

KATERINA SINIAKOVA: I mean, yeah, I wanted to try to show my best, but I would say big thanks to Barbora because I think was really hard and she did perfect job.

It’s really amazing. This week was really good for us. I think we needed to stay aggressive, and we did it. We were really playing well. We keep the team spirit, so we were just trying, we fight. I’m just really happy that we have the trophy.

Q. Barbora, what prompted you to make the very moving poignant speech? How aware were you of Martina’s struggles back in 1975, then of the Velvet Revolution in 1989?

BARBORA KREJCIKOVA: I mean, when I look up today, this morning, at the Internet, I saw that everybody celebrating the 17 November. I said, Okay, it’s really, really important day in our history. I think it would be really nice to actually show and remind people outside of Czech Republic that there is a big, big day for us, that we are celebrating a huge day of freedom.

I mean, I was actually preparing the speech. I was actually very, very nervous because I worried. English is not my first language. With these different words I’m not really used to, it can get tricky. I really wanted to do it well, and I hope I did.

KATERINA SINIAKOVA: You did (smiling).

BARBORA KREJCIKOVA: I mean, I wasn’t alive when all this happened so I cannot say that I remember much because I don’t. But I remember that my parents, they were talking about it a lot, everything that was happening before in the other regime.

I’m extremely happy that we had some brave people and we had some brave students and citizens in Czech Republic, but also in Slovakia, and that now we can live in a freedom and we don’t really have to be scared anymore.

Yeah, for me like knowing about Martina, meeting other great athletes that we had, they’ve been struggling. I was working with Jana, so she was talking about it a lot. I knowing they were struggling a lot.

I think right now it’s really time to appreciate that we can travel and that we can do what we love because back then it was really tough for them.

Q. Barbora, on winning the same tournament that Jana Novotna already won. Katerina, talk about the partnership.

BARBORA KREJCIKOVA: Well, it means lots to me because I really look up to all these legends that used to play before us. I think it’s a really nice, nice thing that we have all these former great players, that some of them are still here with us and they’re trying to help us. I just really appreciate it. I think it’s really nice that we can do what we love and we can get really, really good tips from the best people.

Yeah, I mean, for me it’s very special. I’m really happy that me and Katerina, we made a really good performance today and, yeah, we are lifting the trophy, that we going to get the trophy home and everybody’s going to be happy (smiling).

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon