Peng Shuai’s withdrawal from Hong Kong Open prompts WTA rule change

Written by by By Tati Amare, CNN Beijing, China Hong Kong’s on-court quality, as well as that of its host, China, is being called into question following China’s public apathy to Peng Shuai’s season-ending…

Peng Shuai's withdrawal from Hong Kong Open prompts WTA rule change

Written by by By Tati Amare, CNN Beijing, China

Hong Kong’s on-court quality, as well as that of its host, China, is being called into question following China’s public apathy to Peng Shuai’s season-ending withdrawal from the Hong Kong Open due to severe burns in a car accident.

On Tuesday, the WTA said in a statement to CNN that if the tournament organizers opt not to immediately replace Peng, they will end the tournament. The WTA is the world’s governing body for women’s tennis.

“If it is a situation where there are not enough qualified players participating to fill the required number of entries, we are duty-bound to suspend play,” the statement read.

“In case we’re faced with a situation like this in future, we will inform the seedings committee as soon as possible and if the number of qualifiers is not sufficient to fulfil the terms of the tournament’s competition contract, we will provide a mandatory replacement,” it added.

However, with more than 10 players fighting for a place in the main draw on a WTA ranking system that rewards longevity, stopping play is likely to bring extra delays to the proceedings.

Tour manager Desmond Atkinson said they were confident that the lineup of players would be sufficient.

“Some of the leading names from China still don’t have a single event to their name. Shanghai is out, Taiwan too, but another player from China can play outside of the one-week circuit,” Atkinson told CNN.

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“The reason for Peng’s withdrawal is because it’s not (a) true priority for her to play in Hong Kong. The WTA is very confident that she will still be seeded for the tournament.”

Hong Kong announced via its tournament website that one of the main draw, featuring the top 32 players in the world rankings, would still be held. However, two players were added to the list after Peng withdrew.

Basketball star Wang Yilin, also ranked in the top eight players in the world, has been named as the replacement for Peng. She will be joined in the main draw by Australian player Sam Stosur, who defeated Peng in the opening round of the Australian Open last year, and by Sania Mirza, winner of the WTA Finals last season.

Peng’s injury is not yet clear. Injured tennis player Peng Shuai in the swimming pool at an athletic training base in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in April 2014. AFP via Getty Images

“We are committed to providing the best professional tennis events to our fans, partners and sponsors,” Atkinson added.

“The two alternative finalists in Hong Kong, Sam Stosur and Sania Mirza, are true sporting heroes in their respective countries and I am sure they’ll both give their all when playing here in Hong Kong.”

Guangzhou-born Peng is regarded as China’s best female tennis player. Having signed to an 11-year contract with Chinese Mechelove Sport in October 2016, she has played almost exclusively in the Chinese national league.

In two WTA singles finals — last year in Vancouver and in the 2012 China Open — she was runner-up. In her final tournament as a professional, she lost to eventual champion Garbine Muguruza in straight sets in the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters.

Despite a string of wins on court, Peng has been dogged by reports of a strained relationship with China’s basketball-mad government. Following her participation in the Guangzhou street basketball event, which was held in the Beijing National Stadium (formerly known as the Bird’s Nest) in 2014, The Independent reported that Peng’s wife Hui Yudiao had lost all hope in Chinese basketball.

The article claimed that the pair had left China for the US, where they had been coaching children in a basketball tournament.

Peng had been in the running to replace Caroline Wozniacki, who pulled out of the tournament on Monday with a torn left ribcage muscle.

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