Serena Williams said Thursday she's "devastated and shocked" about the continued public absence of Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, adding her powerful voice to a growing international outcry.
The hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai has been gaining steam in recent days, with former women's No. 1 Naomi Osaka and current men's No. 1 Novak Djokovic having sounded the alarm this week about Peng's whereabouts.
"I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai," Williams, the winner of 23 major titles, wrote to her 10.6 million followers on Twitter.
"I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent. Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time."
Another women's tennis great, Billie Jean King, also added to the list of sporting figures expressing their concern.
Peng is one of China’s biggest tennis stars of recent years, having captured the 2013 women's doubles title at Wimbledon and the 2014 doubles championship at the French Open.
Peng went on the Chinese social media platform Weibo this month to accuse Zhang Gaoli, a former vice premier in his 70s, of sexually assaulting her during an otherwise on-and-off relationship while he was in office.
The message posted Nov. 2 on Weibo was quickly deleted, and any online debate was quashed by government censors who blocked a list of related search terms.
She hasn't been seen in public since.
An email sent this week to the Women’s Tennis Association and published by China’s state-owned English-language satellite news channel was attributed to Peng and claimed that she was OK.
But the head of the WTA cast doubt on the veracity of the email, which has only served to heighten fears about Peng's safety.
On Thursday Steve Simon, the WTA head, said the association is prepared to pull its tournaments out of China over the case.
“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Simon told CNN in an interview.
“Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business. Women need to be respected and not censored.”
China has been the focus of aggressive WTA expansion over the last decade and hosted nine tournaments in the 2019 season — the last before the disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic — with a total $30.4 million prize money on offer.