• Man claims to have sent letter to Tennis Integrity Unit • Roger Federer’s former doubles partner says case ‘sounded a little desperate’
A former doubles partner of Roger Federer has accused the Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai of abandoning the National Tennis Academy (NTA) in Beijing and threatening to quit the sport as a result of concerns about his wellbeing.
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Boubacar Mekloum, a former NTA player who lived with Peng during her time at the academy, alleges the 30-year-old and the country’s national team doctors had admitted she had been suffering from depression. According to Mekloum, Peng refused to face certain competition if the coaches believed her vulnerability was more evident than her proven ability.
Mekloum’s letter was purportedly written to the Tennis Integrity Unit in September and was published in the French newspaper L’Equipe this week. It stated: “[We] recommend to the Tennis Integrity Unit that this country and to the Communist party and the national sports association should support Peng Shuai’s decision to quit tennis. […] Peng Shuai is a brave, proactive and successful tennis player … Yet she is also a person who is psychologically frail, living in a completely irrational frame of mind, totally unbalanced [and] does not manage to hold herself in control. [We] recommend to the Tennis Integrity Unit that no match against [Peng Shuai] should be played [by] the French team.”
A copy of the letter also referred to the Chinese calendar as a “myth”, according to the UK’s Telegraph. It added: “The Olympics are at the end of the calendar year and so it is not possible to play the conditions of this year. According to the calendar, October will be October but it is very incorrect.”
The NTA confirmed on Tuesday that none of the allegations had been substantiated. It said the letter had been written by a “one-time competitor” whom it did not identify, although it suggested he was distanced from tennis.
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“We cannot verify Mr Mekloum’s claims,” a spokesman for the NTA said. “As the letter itself clearly indicates, Mr Mekloum has not met Peng Shuai, has not used the NTA gym or consumed any of the services we offer to Peng Shuai nor she has responded to Mr Mekloum’s interview.
“We deeply regret that Mr Mekloum has chosen to share personal opinions about Peng Shuai with the media but we are unable to confirm any of his claims, including his assertion that there has been a systematic programme to bully and keep Peng Shuai from competing. We strongly refute any suggestion that Peng Shuai is receiving any external coaching.”
Beijing was hoping a Chinese player could make it into the ATP top 100 by next year and Peng has won two main draw titles in the past year. She has been drawn to play Spain’s Julia Goerges at next week’s season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore.
Calls for the NTA to follow through on an agreement that they may in the future have a say in some players’ careers have been mounting as Chinese players have suffered a number of injuries in recent years. But Felix Zhu failed to qualify for the Singapore tournament.
Peng, who won the doubles with Federer at the Olympics in Rio last year, missed the Beijing and Shanghai tournaments earlier this year with an ankle injury and the French Open with a shoulder problem.