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MELBOURNE:

Chinese number one Zhang Shuai hopes the WTA tour can return to her country this season as it opens up after abandoning the “zero-Covid” policy but said the Peng Shuai issue was out of her control.

Former WTA player Peng accused a senior Chinese government official of sexual assault in 2021 in a post on social media that was soon removed from the country’s internet. She later denied having made the accusation.

Peng’s post caused an international outcry over her safety and led the WTA to suspend tournaments in China – a decision expected to cost the women’s tour hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship.

The WTA has said a return to China would require a resolution to the Peng situation and its 2023 tour calendar lists events only up to the US Open, with no clarity on tournaments to be held in China.

Zhang, who reached the Australian Open fourth round on Saturday, last played a WTA event in China at the 2020 Shenzhen Open and said she had “no idea” whether she might compete in front of home fans this year.

“I think nobody knows … But we saw a lot of different sports already start to play some tournaments in China,” she told reporters at Melbourne Park after beating American qualifier Katie Volynets 6-3 6-2.

“So everyone, I think all the fans and the players, coaches and all the teams, even players from other countries, always ask us, ‘How about your country now? Is it possible we’ll play there this year?’ Everybody wishes but nobody knows.”

The WTA has called for a formal investigation into Peng’s allegations and wants to meet with her privately to discuss her situation, a spokesperson told Reuters this month.

Asked whether Peng should meet with the WTA as a step to resolving the impasse, Zhang declined to offer a view.

“I don’t know too much about this and it’s also not in my control,” said the 34-year-old, who will play former world number one Karolina Pliskova for a place in the Australian Open quarter-finals. “I’m just the same as everyone. I just know from the news or the WTA website.”



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