Taiwanese tennis star Peng Shuai has failed to arrive in Russia, despite being due to play in the St Petersburg Ladies Open.
Peng is the first Taiwanese woman to play at the WTA event and the highest-ranked player to ever represent Taiwan at a grand slam tournament.
The BBC reports that Peng left to join the Chinese delegation in Washington, and the organisers have been told her flight to Russia has been cancelled.
Peng was due to have joined Spain’s Garbine Muguruza and China’s Shuai Zhang in Russia, which is home to the biggest Chinese fanbase in the world, and will be a huge disappointment to her legions of fans back home.
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At the 2010 US Open Peng became the first Taiwan player to be granted a protected ranking after Beijing agreed to allow Taiwan to play at the same tournaments as countries from mainland China. She went on to reach the fourth round of the tournament, which was the first to stage any of the Asian Games events in tennis.
The Chinese Tennis Association has refused to comment on the game’s most high-profile athlete missing the event. After winning her best female player award, Peng was greeted by eight world leaders including the US president, Donald Trump, in 2016.
According to The Sun she was only supposed to arrive on Friday, but backed out just three hours before landing.
Tennis stars, politicians and fans across the world have begun calling for Peng to be allowed to play. The Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki tweeted: “It’s about time that this is looked into.”
The British players Anne Keothavong and Jocelyn Rae tweeted they were “so disappointed” to learn Peng was not coming.
Peng is due to play the opening match against Fed Cup teammate Li Su-wei of China on Saturday. Her compatriot Zhang has been handed a bye to the third round.