Australian star says tennis has to ensure players ‘are safe’ at tournament after Italian goes missing

SANDRINGHAM, England — A day after news broke that Tennis Integrity Unit investigators were interviewing witnesses in the case of an Italian athlete and her coach, an Australian Grand Slam doubles champion said the sport must ensure the safety of players and the security of the competition when they come together to compete.

“If you cannot guarantee that your athletes are safe during the competition, then that is not great, that is not good for the sport,” Peng Shuai said before facing her soon-to-be fellow-fellow-foreigner in the first round of the 2017 WTA Championships, which feature the top eight players in the world.

Peng, of China, added that she had spoken to the player, Coco Vandeweghe of the United States, who is staying in a five-star hotel in the same group in which she’s traveling. “I had a chat with her,” Peng said. “She is OK, but she’s just nervous about talking. I asked her, ‘How was your experience?’ She said, ‘There’s lots of security.’”

Vandeweghe will also meet Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan in her match, according to Margaret Court Arena.

Peng’s Chinese teammate, the No. 9-ranked Zhang Shuai, is also in action. She was beaten by Vandeweghe 6-4, 6-3 earlier this week.

The tournament is being held at the Barclaycard Arena in the heart of London. Its organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the case from The Washington Post.

Earlier this month, the TUI Anti-Corruption Foundation alleged that racketeering, match-fixing and drug trafficking are rampant in tennis, a sport tainted by scandal since the 2013 case involving Maria Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium. Sharapova has called the allegations a “lie.”

Tennis has moved to crack down on corruption, according to its anti-corruption program. Two years ago, in July 2015, the TUI announced its double-audit test — a program that’s used by many major sports organizations around the world — was unsuccessful in testing for corruption. In July 2016, the U.S. Tennis Association revamped its anti-corruption program.

The program’s feasibility improved last September, when the Tennis Integrity Unit announced the introduction of tools that it now uses at regular intervals to review its methodology. The Tennis Integrity Unit is responsible for reporting and recording the names of matches flagged as suspect after every match played between January and June. Then, during the summer, it tests its monitoring protocols against potential matches that it flagged.

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