He has been quite discreet since the beginning of this Roland-Garros. But thanks to his qualification for the round of 16 (Iga Swiatek is the world number one in the end), 19-year-old Zheng Qinwen, the 74th player in the world, is on his way to becoming a star. in his country. . The return of Chinese tennis to the helm of the stage is a reminder of another case: that of Peng Shuai, former world number one in doubles. In early November, the latter posted a message on the Chinese social network Weibo accusing former Chinese Premier Zhang Gaoli of rape. His text, as well as all the discussions about the player, were quickly censored by the Chinese authorities.
“We haven’t broken ties”
For weeks, the player showed no signs of life, causing concern in the tennis world. The hashtag #WhereIsPengShuai quickly went viral on social media, and in December the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) – the organization that organizes women’s tennis around the world – even suspended all professional tournaments in the world. China. International pressure eventually pushed Beijing out of its silence. The latter thus granted an interview to a few rare media, among them the team in February, where he officially announced his retirement from the circuit at the age of 36 and denied his own accusations.
In recent months, the mobilization of support for the player seems to have been exhausted, the attention diverted by the war in Ukraine. But internally, sports and tennis authorities are still trying to figure out under what conditions the Chinese remain. The latest news is that the IOC is still in contact with her. “We did not break ties after the Games [de Pékin]she explained ten days ago the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach, who met her on this occasion. The last contacts with her are to go back about two weeks and we are still seeing how she could come to visit Lausanne and in particular the Olympic Museum. As explained by the organization of the tournament Released, the director of Roland-Garros, Amélie Mauresmo, also tried to take the former player to the Porte d’Auteuil. In vain.
Alongside the WTA, discussions are stalled. The agency has therefore decided to maintain its sanctions: there will be no tournament on Chinese soil in 2022. However, for the ATP – the male equivalent of the WTA – there is obviously double standards. If on the one hand he has decided to eliminate the points awarded at Wimbledon in support of Russian and Belarusian players who are not allowed to participate in the London Grand Slam, on the other hand he intends to hold his tournaments in China for the time being in September and October. if the health situation allows it (the years 2020 and 2021 were canceled due to Covid).
Create more mixed tournaments
The WTA’s decision seems all the more courageous as the body was financially dependent on China. Since the coronation of Li Na in the early 2010s, the country has decided to effectively boost its investment in tennis: creating exceptional infrastructure, hiring high-level foreign coaches (Zheng Qinwen, for example, to be formed by Carlos Rodriguez, ex- trainer). of Justine Hénin who worked with Li Na at the end of her career), increasing the number of competitions on her floor … With difficulties at that time to find partners, the WTA logically took the opportunity. This is evidenced by the particularly juicy collaboration ($ 1 billion in ten years) between 2018 between the body that manages the women’s circuit and the city of Shenzhen to host the Master until 2030.
“On the circuit, we told ourselves that it was not possible to have so many tournaments in China.entrusted to Released Camille Pin, former number 61 in the world and consultant to Amazon Prime. Back then there were financial needs for the players and the whole association, but there, between the Covid and the Peng Shuai affair, the WTA realized that it was not healthy to be so dependent on a country. Little by little, they manage to break away from it. Last year’s master’s took place in Guadalajara, Mexico, for example. And we are still waiting for the program at the end of the year, but it will not be in China.
Behind the scenes, a project is being launched between the ATP and the WTA so that grafting women’s tournaments on men’s tournaments would make it easier for them to find sponsors and thus emancipate themselves from China. This project, defended by Roger Federer during the first confinementwould consist of organizing a mixed 1000 Masters (the most important competitions after the Grand Slams) on the model of Indian Wells and Miami.
This revision will not occur overnight. But on the circuit, it looks favorable, even beyond Chinese dependence. “We have to find the means to make our sport attractive, it’s a priorityexplains a Released Justine Hénin, former world number 1 and consultant for France Télévisions. If there is a merger project, I think it can only be positive.