Concerns mount over Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai
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The Davis Cup Finals came to a conclusion on Sunday (December 5), as world No 2 Daniil Medvedev and world No 5 Andrey Rublev led the Russian team to a third Davis Cup title and first in 15 years. The squad dropped just two matches throughout the Finals.
While it was good news for the Russians, who have enjoyed plenty of success in team competitions this year, it was bad news for Novak Djokovic who failed in his pursuit for Davis Cup glory, having admitted that representing his country was his top priority alongside winning more Grand Slam titles.
It’s still not known whether the world No 1 will attempt to win a record 21st major title at January’s Australian Open, though he finally admitted when he would announce his decision after Serbia lost their Davis Cup semi-final tie to Croatia on Friday (December 3).
As concerns remain for Peng Shuai, the former world No 1 doubles player who has barely been seen publicly since accusing China’s former vice-premier of sexual assault, the WTA made their biggest statement yet as they suspended all tournaments from China with immediate effect, in their latest plea to ensure the 35-year-old could live free of any control and coercion, and have her allegations investigated.
The career of one of Britain’s best players in recent years also came to an end last week, as former world No 4 Johanna Konta announced her retirement aged 30, having won four career titles, with her most recent coming earlier this year.
Express Sport takes a look back at the biggest news stories on and off the tennis court from the past week.
Djokovic suffers crushing Davis Cup defeat and offers Australian Open update
Novak Djokovic competed in this week’s Davis Cup Finals, hoping to claim his third big goal of the season after failing in his pursuit to win the Calendar Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal.
The world No 1 said his big aim outside of winning Majors was representing his country, and was able to lead Serbia to the semi-final in this year’s edition of the tournament often branded the World Cup of men’s tennis.
After clinching a crucial victory for Serbia in the second singles rubber, defeating Marin Cilic 6-4 6-1 after his teammate Dusan Lajovic had lost to the Croatian world No 274 in the opening match, the tie and the spot in the final came down to the decisive doubles rubber, something Djokovic himself had admitted ahead of the semi-final would be a tough task with the world No 1 pair of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic representing Croatia.
The top-ranked doubles team’s expertise showing through as they defeated Djokovic and his partner Filip Krajinovic 7-5 6-1 in a rare meeting between the world No 1s in singles and doubles, and the 34-year-old later admitted achieving his goal of winning the Davis Cup for Serbia – having last done so a decade ago – would be like “climbing Mount Everest”.
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Also in his post-match team press conference, Djokovic offered something of an update on when his Australian Open decision would be announced, as the nine-time champion still remains in doubt to go after vaccination became mandatory for all players – something he has been opposed to in the past as he refuses to disclose his vaccination status.
“You will be informed. I know what you want. I’m not going to give you an answer tonight. I know what you want to ask me. But you will be informed. That’s all I can tell you. I cannot give you any date. Obviously Australia is around the corner, so you will know very soon,” he told reporters after losing the doubles match alongside Krajinovic.
WTA suspends all tournaments in China over handling of Peng Shuai situation
The WTA CEO and Chairman has continued to share his concerns for player Peng Shuai, more than a month after the former world No 1 doubles player accused China’s former vice premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.
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She was not seen and heard from for more than two weeks after making the allegations, and has since made limited appearances in photos and videos posted by Chinese state-affiliated media, and in a video call with the president of the International Olympic Committee.
WTA chief Steve Simon had continued to threated to remove all tournaments from China if his two requests – for Peng to be able to speak free of coercion and control, including a private conversation with him, and for her allegations to be fairly and openly investigated – were not met.
On Wednesday (December 1), he announced the decision to suspend all tournaments in China with immediate effect, including the prestigious year-end WTA Finals, which signed a supposed ‘billion dollar deal’ to be held in Shenzhen for ten years from 2019.
“None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players,” he said in a statement.
“As a result, and with the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, I am announcing the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong. In good conscience, I don’t see how I can ask our athletes to compete there when Peng Shuai is not allowed to communicate freely and has seemingly been pressured to contradict her allegation of sexual assault.”
Johanna Konta calls time on incredible career
Former British No 1 Johanna Konta announced her retirement from professional tennis on Wednesday (December 1), after a stellar career which saw her reached a career-high ranking of world No 4, make three Grand Slam semi-finals and win four titles, including this year’s Nottingham Open in June.
Taking to social media to share the news, the 30-year-old wrote: “My playing career has come to an end, and I am so incredibly grateful for the career that it turned out to be.
“All the evidence pointed towards me not ‘making’ it in this profession. However my luck materialised in the people that came into my life and impacted my existence in ways that transcended tennis. I am so incredibly grateful for those people. You know who you are.”
Konta had won her fourth title earlier this year at the WTA 250 in Nottingham, and went to Wimbledon in good form with her spirits high but was forced out of the tournament after she was determined a close contact, and later tested positive for Covid herself, leaving her unable to compete in the Olympics.
She competed in the Montreal WTA 1000, beating Zhang Shuai by retirement and defeating third seed Elina Svitolina but was forced to withdraw from her third-round clash with Coco Gauff, then went to the Cincinnati WTA 1000 where she lost to Karolina Muchova, before withdrawing from the US Open, and did not play a match afterwards.
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Medvedev and Rublev lead Russia to Davis Cup glory
The Russian Tennis Federation won their first Davis Cup title in 15 years and third overall on Sunday (December 5) when Andrey Rublev and Daniil Medvedev won their respective singles rubbers in the final tie against Croatia.
Their team was one of the favourites to win with two top five singles players in their arsenal, and the strength of their squad paid off as the two young Russians capped off an incredible year of tennis for their nation.
The Russian Tennis Federation lost just two matches all week, with Rublev falling to Feliciano Lopez in the group tie against Spain in front of the Madrid Arena crowd, and Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov losing a dead rubber to the German pairing of Tim Puetz and Grand Slam champion Kevin Krawietz in the semi-final.
Rublev gave his nation an early lead in the final, defeating Borna Gojo 6-4 7-6(5) in the opening singles rubber, after the world No 274 had become the revelation of the Davis Cup Finals when he beat three top 75 players – Alexei Popyrin, Lorenzo Sonego and Dusan Lajovic – for the first time in his career.
It was then a battle of US Open champions as this year’s winner Medvedev took on 2014 champion Marin Cilic in the second rubber, and he saved break points in the opener to take the match 7-6(7) 6-2 and win Russia their first Davis Cup title since 2006.
It caps off a stellar 2021 for Russian tennis, which saw them win the ATP Cup in a squad also led by Medvedev and Rublev, and claim the most Olympic medals in tennis this summer after Khachanov won a silver in singles and an all-Russian mixed doubles affair saw Rublev and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova won the gold medal, and Karatsev and Elena Vesnina win silver.
The Russian Tennis Federation were also victorious in the recent Billie Jean King Cup – the women’s tennis equivalent of the Davis Cup.
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