In a video statement posted to her official Chinese Twitter account on Tuesday morning, Peng Shuai, a tennis player who is ranked 15th in the world, said that the Chinese Olympic Committee had asked her to speak publicly on Tuesday after Peng had criticized the media over their coverage of Chinese women’s tennis player Wang Qiang’s struggles.
Peng Shuai’s short statement on the media and #WOC covering Chinese women’s tennis. pic.twitter.com/PLxLBBvhyT — Ting Shi (@tingtsi) May 21, 2019
In a 30-minute, phone interview with the China Daily, Peng called the media “dreadful” and said that they asked her to withdraw from an event, and who else from the Chinese tennis world to hold interviews after Wang lost to Simona Halep in Paris. Wang, who is ranked 51st in the world, played in only nine tournaments last year, including the French Open, and has not won a tournament in her 10-year career. In a video posted on social media on Monday, Peng, who won a medal in the mixed doubles event at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016, said she was concerned about the same thing happening to Wang, who is 24.
Wang lost the first set of her match on Monday night against Simona Halep, a Romanian tennis player ranked No. 3 in the world, before eventually falling in straight sets. Both the China Daily and People’s Daily, the state-run Chinese media, later compared Wang’s decline with that of former tennis star Li Na, whose career was also cut short by injury, although Li became the first Asian to win a Grand Slam singles title after she defeated Maria Sharapova at the 2014 French Open.
In the video, Peng also mentioned she had been in talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and that the Chinese tennis commission had asked her to give her views about the media coverage. The WOC had also approached her, she said, but had been reluctant to get involved with questions about the online backlash against Wang. Peng chose not to elaborate on why she said she had declined such requests.
Wang has not responded to Peng’s criticism in any way. While Wang has refused to give interviews to reporters from Chinese media outlets, several pro-Wang, pro-Wang Twitter accounts have criticized Peng for her criticism. Also on Tuesday, Wang deleted a retweet from a Chinese netizen who had compared her comments on the media coverage of Wang to those of another athlete who criticized the media after a negative review. The person had said, in reply to a reporter’s question about Peng’s criticisms, that both Wang and Peng had said the wrong things.
This is not the first time Peng has criticized the media. In 2016, the tennis player, who turned 30 in February, called the media “nasty” after she was cast in a negative light for her involvement in a three-day nonstop wedding event, but called the wedding itself “brilliant” in an interview with The New York Times. The essay Peng wrote for The New York Times then said that before her, no Chinese athlete had been depicted as a “celebrity, but probably the least mature figure, or one that was unattractive,” but that was no longer true.