Daria Saville caught up in women's tennis 'disgrace' amid WTA return to China

The WTA has recommenced events in China following a near two-year boycott over the Peng Shuai situation.

Daria Saville, pictured here beating Anna-Lena Friedsam at the Guangzhou Open.
Daria Saville beat Anna-Lena Friedsam as the WTA returned to China at the Guangzhou Open. Image: WTA/Getty

Daria Saville has won through to the second round of the Guangzhou Open, amid fresh outrage over the WTA's decision to resume events in China after a near two-year boycott. The Guangzhou Open is the first women's tennis event to take place in China since the WTA launched a boycott of the country in December of 2021 over the situation surrounding Peng Shuai.

The former top-20 singles player and doubles World No.1 wrote on Chinese social media in 2021 that she had been sexually assaulted by a senior Communist Party official. That post was subsequently deleted and Peng disappeared from public view for a brief period.

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She later reappeared at a number of seemingly-staged events and interviews, retracting the claims and allaying fears over her safety. Peng then made an appearance at the Winter Olympics in Beijing and told IOC boss Thomas Bach that she was perfectly safe and free to move around.

But the rest of the world wasn't buying the story, and still isn't. The WTA had called for an investigation into Peng's claims amid suggestions she was being silenced and controlled by the government, and later withdrew the WTA tour from China.

But in April this year they announced that events would resume in China because the boycott hadn't resulted in any meaningful change. WTA bosses admitted "the situation has shown no sign of changing", adding: "We have concluded we will never fully secure those goals, and it will be our players and tournaments who ultimately will be paying an extraordinary price for their sacrifices.

"We have not been able to achieve everything we set out for, but we have been in touch with people close to Peng and are assured she is living safely with her family in Beijing. We also have received assurances that WTA players and staff operating in China will be safe and protected while in the country. The WTA takes this commitment seriously and will hold all parties responsible."

Peng Shuai, pictured here after winning the Wimbledon doubles title with Su-Wei Hsieh in 2013.
Peng Shuai (R) won the Wimbledon doubles title with Su-Wei Hsieh in 2013. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Fresh outrage over WTA's return to China

This week the Guangzhou Open got underway in China, marking the first WTA event in the country since the boycott. Savile beat Anna-Lena Friedsam 3-6 6-3 6-1 on Tuesday in a match that lasted more than two-and-half hours.

The Aussie star is battling her way back up the WTA rankings after an injury-plagued couple of years. Currently World No.177, Saville's victory over Friedsman came against an opponent ranked 63 places higher, and she will face top seed Magda Linette (World No.27) in the next round.

Only four players in the top 100 are playing in Guangzhou, with World No.48 Tatjana Maria the only other top-50 player. Maria also advanced to the last 16 on Tuesday, beating Philippine qualifier Alexandra Eala 6-3, 6-0.

Daria Saville, pictured here in action at the US Open.
Daria Saville in action at the US Open. (Photo by Lev Radin/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

French veteran Alize Cornet announced earlier this month that she wouldn't be playing in China this year. “Staying true to my convictions and careful about my health, I decided that I will not be playing...My season will therefore resume in October.”

American great Chris Evert re-posted a comment from a tennis journalist reading: "The Chinese swing is about to start. We should not forget about Peng Shuai. She still can't speak freely or move out of China. It's crazy that these things still happen in the 21st century.

The last time the Guangzhou event was held (in September 2019), there were seven top-50 players in action. Sofia Kenin won the event, with Sam Stosur losing in the final in her last WTA singles final before her retirement.

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