The great American Serena Williams says that the case of Chinese player Peng Shuai “must be investigated” and urged people “not to be silent” about his well-being.
Nothing has been heard from Peng, 35, since he made allegations of sexual assault against a senior Chinese government official two weeks ago.
Chinese state media published an email attributed to Peng, but has been questioned about its authenticity.
“I hope she is safe and that they find her as soon as possible.” Williams said.
Concern for Peng’s well-being has continued to grow since she said she was “forced” into a sexual relationship with China’s former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli.
The allegations were made in a post on the Chinese social media site Weibo on November 3 and were soon removed from China’s internet.
It is the first time that such a claim has been made against one of China’s top political leaders.
Steve Simon, president of the Women’s Tennis Association, said Peng deserved “to be heard, not censored” for the allegations.
On Wednesday, he questioned the email released by Chinese state media, saying it “only raises” concerns about Peng’s safety.
Williams is one of many leading players to speak out about Peng’s well-being, after men’s world number one Novak Djokovic and four-time Japan Major League winner Naomi Osaka.
“I am devastated and shocked to hear the news,” said Williams, who is a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion.
“This must be investigated and we must not remain silent.
“Sending love to her and her family during this incredibly difficult time.”
China’s #MeToo movement gains momentum
Peng is a former world number one doubles player who won two Grand Slam titles – at Wimbledon in 2013 and at the 2014 French Open, both alongside Hsieh Su-wei of Chinese Taipei.
He also achieved a career-high singles ranking of 14 in 2011 and reached the semifinals of the US Open in 2014.
Peng, who has not played on the WTA Tour since March 2020, acknowledged that she could not provide evidence to back up her claims.
His indictment is the highest-profile incident in China’s #MeToo movement.
Zhang, 75, has not responded to Peng’s claims. He served as China’s vice premier from 2013 to 2018 and was a close ally of President Xi Jinping.
On Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said he was “not aware of the relevant situation” when asked by a journalist about it.
The world of tennis demands answers
People across tennis, including past and present players, coaches and journalists, have been demanding answers about Peng’s well-being, as have other high-profile sports stars, actors and politicians.
Many have been using #WhereIsPengShuai in Twitter posts, along with a photo of her.
Serbia’s Djokovic was one of the first big-name players to discuss the issue, saying it was “shocking” when asked earlier this week.
Osaka, who has used their platform for a long time to talk about social issues, added his concern and said “censorship is never okay.”
On Thursday, Barcelona and former Spanish footballer Gerard Piqué became one of the most prominent athletes outside of tennis to express their concern.
Amnesty International, the organization that focuses on human rights, said the email allegedly from Peng “should not be taken at face value”.
The group questioned the “record” of Chinese state media of “alleged remarks.”
With China set to host next year’s Winter Olympics in Beijing, comment was also sought from the International Olympic Committee.
It said: “Experience shows that silent diplomacy offers the best opportunity to find a solution to issues of this nature.”