The World Tennis Association’s decision to bar China’s Zheng Jie from next month’s Fed Cup finals has set a “positive example” for the sport, according to a former US ambassador to China.
Zheng was controversially dropped by WTA officials on Monday, despite having won two matches for China in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Eastbourne tournament in Britain. China is seeking its first Fed Cup title and will field Peng Shuai and Zhang Shuai in the finals.
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“I think [the WTA’s] policy with China is an important step forward and a clear demonstration that we recognize their human rights and athletes have human rights. It is certainly very positive. The more we can encourage these athletes, the better it is,” said Anne Patterson, who served as US ambassador to China from 2013-15.
Australia’s Samantha Stosur also praised the WTA’s decision, saying the governing body would encourage more players from China to take part in international tournaments.
“I think it’s a really good decision [for the WTA] to take. I think it’s a statement for us to be encouraging more players from China to come to the Fed Cup and that gives them a tremendous amount of credibility with other players,” Stosur told BBC Sport.
The Chinese tennis federation (TF) claimed the WTA had a “personal grudge” against Zheng, the 28-year-old fourth seed, which it claimed motivated her exclusion from the finals in Ohio.
Zheng said she was disappointed by the decision, believing it was wrong for the WTA to exclude her from the finals because she had just beaten world No1 Simona Halep of Romania.
“This sort of decision isn’t fair for a person and a sport and it’s also an insult to all the Chinese players,” Zheng told the state-run People’s Daily newspaper.
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Zheng, the world No109, was taken out of the draw by Slovakia’s Jana Cepelova in their semi-final tie, before a walkover victory for China in the last-four encounter against Australia sent them through to the finals.
Meanwhile, Sania Mirza has urged the WTA to grant all Chinese players equal treatment on WTA Tour ranking points and funding.
“There should be some sort of parity between the [male and female] players. I hope that the WTA Board will approve equal ranking for players of both sexes,” Mirza, who is ranked sixth in the world, said in a Facebook post on Monday.
The top-ranked female player in China, Shuai Zhang, was unseeded at the Eastbourne championships, but took out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Maria Sakkari before being knocked out in the quarter-finals by Halep.
Vinicius Lima and Irina-Camelia Begu are ranked 21st and 36th, respectively, in the world.
“We are very proud of our players on both sides of the border, and we know how hard they have worked to ensure the ultimate success,” the WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement.
“Like all nations, we recognise that the personal struggles of some individuals may be perceived as an impediment to their success as a group,” Simon added. “On this occasion, the decision was made to omit a player from the China Fed Cup squad with whom we have not always agreed, but whose performance we have personally respected.
“I want to apologise to one of our supporters, who, after being informed of our decision, expressed disappointment that we could not rectify the situation, and respect the position that the player’s agent and federation are in.”
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Zheng is ranked 123rd in the world, while Wang Qiang and Zhang Lujuan have been backed by WTA officials to play in the Fed Cup finals.