Former world number one player Zhang Gaoli and actress Zhang Wenli have been named in a series of allegations against China’s Peng Shuai, released by the WTA Players Council, China’s professional women’s tour. The pair were accused of abusing one another in an exchange of abuse that left Peng embarrassed and enraged, wrote council members Jennifer Jones and Samantha Stosur.
According to their letter, Peng had been talking in Shanghai about her hopes of “somehow remarrying” Zhong Youbao, the father of Chinese couple Jack and Jie Zheng, also played in the tour. She told her partners Zhang, who was 12 at the time, and Wenli, who was 14, “that Zhong Youbao was openly abusive to the seven of them, especially to Jingjing,” and when Zhang criticised Wenli’s writing style, said “he threatened her” with physical violence. The letter continues:
…Zhang Wenli told Peng that it was natural for her father to treat her sister and her mother and to treat her boyfriend like she wanted to treat you. When Jingjing says she can’t stand it, Zhang Wenli reminded Peng that Jingjing has said that Jingjing is the best thing that ever happened to her. Zhang Gaoli told Jingjing that if she was a princess Jingjing wouldn’t be like this. Zhang Gaoli told Peng Shuai that it is perfectly natural for Peng Jingjing to have more than three boyfriends.
Also, reported the BBC:
The breakdown in communication was said to have begun when Zhang Wenli showed her younger sister Jingjing a romantic poem that Peng’s then boyfriend had written to her, saying it was what Jingjing wanted, because Peng was sexually obsessed with Zhang Wenli.
Zhang Wenli claims that, during another meeting, Zhang Shuai threw a cup of water on her, causing her to cry.
Tall and slim, Zhang looks like a prime candidate for a sporting star turned fashion model. She has even told reporters she takes a million self-defence moves every day, in an effort to deal with violence that can sometimes come with the job.
But in the months after China became world champions in women’s tennis, and a world number one by winning the French Open in 2016, Zhao fell apart under the pressure and it was eventually Peng who was called a “golden girl”. Her personal story and bond with her father have also inspired a big-screen film by New Zealand director Craig Battall, now set to have its Chinese premiere in June.
Zei Yuan covers women’s sports for The Daily Beast.