Tennis officials express concern over post comparing Serena Williams to WWII-era film hero

WTA officials have issued a statement expressing their concern about the recent behavior of a Chinese tennis player and sent the player a “letter of instruction” following a highly publicized social media post.

The statement was issued by WTA President Steve Simon on Friday afternoon and read:

“WTA continues to be deeply concerned about the behavior of Peng Shuai and wishes to wish her success at the US Open. We have contacted and spoken with the Tennis Association of China (TAOC) to express our concerns and sent a letter of instruction to Ms. Peng in hopes of addressing them. The ATP Tour also shares our concerns.”

A Tuesday post on Twitter by Peng Shuai – a 34-year-old Chinese player who has won in Shenzhen and won two Grand Slam qualifying events in Guangzhou and Guangzhou – drew criticism for appearing to liken Serena Williams’ performance at the French Open to a scene from the 1942 Western “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.”

In the Oscar-winning movie, a woman, played by Norma Shearer, is ordered to ditch her horse by a superior soldier. Instead, Shearer, rather than abandon the horse, attempts to outrun the men, who eventually have to hand the horse over and allow Shearer to be captured by the German officers.

In the Peng tweet, she references the “yellow ribbon” — a symbol of solidarity with and objection to the Japanese occupation of China in World War II. Her tweet, which was subsequently deleted, concluded with a pre-Wimbledon comment — “what #jesus hath sent.”

It is not uncommon for tennis players to use social media to promote themselves, their families and their team. But the post from Peng, made just two days after her country won the French Open on Saturday and a day after Venus Williams won Wimbledon qualifying for the 22nd consecutive year, attracted attention because of the flagrant nature of the post and the echoes of the Western.

A spokesperson for the Women’s Tennis Association confirmed to The Washington Post that the WTA had intervened with the Chinese Tennis Association over the issue, and that they had spoken to the Chinese tennis federation.

Simon said in his statement that the WTA had also informed the ATP of their concerns.

“We have contacted the ATP and asked them to share our concerns and work with the Chinese Tennis Association in hopes of addressing them,” Simon said.

Simon said he is “always passionate” about the important role social media plays in tennis. But he said he was concerned about the issue with Peng.

“I’m sure the sport wants and deserves better behavior from its players, but I cannot speak for the other players,” Simon said. “We speak with the concerned players and hope they will follow the warning in our letter of instruction and adhere to the WTA code of conduct.”

The WTA had not previously called out either Taylor Townsend, an American player ranked 161st in the world, for inappropriate social media posts, which include photos of her posing in her underwear. And a week ago, the governing body let it be known that no action was being taken against Dinara Safina of Russia, the 2008 Wimbledon champion, for a tweet that called Williams “a pig,” another French Open contender, 25-year-old Garbine Muguruza of Spain, for an Instagram post that included one of her playing tennis in her underwear.

Williams, who had threatened to sue, did not publicly discuss the matter. And former world No. 1 Justine Henin, now retired, told ESPN: “I understand she has a right to defend herself.”

Some players raised concerns with the WTA that Peng would be suspended for her Twitter post, and Simon said the organization had agreed to let her keep playing. He did not comment on what action, if any, the WTA would take if other players did the same thing.

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