Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has sparked further concern about her well-being after recently denying the sexual assault accusations she made against former Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.

On Sunday, Shuai denied making the allegations during an interview with Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language newspaper based in Singapore.

“I have never said or written that anyone sexually assaulted me. This point must be emphasized very clearly,” she told the outlet.

Shuai went on to claim she was not under surveillance by the government after making the allegations. “Why would anyone monitor [me?] [I have] always been very free,” she said.

Shuai spoke to the newspaper while appearing at a promotional event for the Beijing Winter Olympic Games. The encounter resulted in Shuai’s name becoming a trending topic the following day, with people believing she made the statement after being pressured by the Chinese government.

“So, after 48 days, Peng Shuai unexpectedly encountered a journalist from a pro-Beijing newspaper and then casually answered her questions about an event that gandered intense international attention. Wow, so natural, very real, everyone now believes it. Congratulations, the CCP!” Yaqui Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch tweeted.

Another person suggested Shuai changed her statement after facing repercussions from the government over tarnishing the name of a prominent Chinese leader.

“Looks like Peng Shuai found a way out of isolation. Deny everything, call it all a big misunderstanding. A small thing to do for parole, but still it is a tragedy,” the individual wrote.

Shuai seemingly disappeared from the public eye after she shared a post on Nov. 2 to the social media platform Weibo in which she accused Gaoli of forcing her to have sex with him.

The post went viral but was quickly scrubbed from the platform. Her account remains under restrictions.

The athlete’s disappearance from the spotlight sparked the hashtag “Where is Peng Shuai” on social media, with tennis stars like Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka demanding answers about Shuai’s well-being.

On Monday, the Women’s Tennis Association revealed it still has concerns about Shuai’s well-being despite her comments and will continue to investigate the matter.

“We remain steadfast in our call for a full, fair and transparent investigation, without censorship, into her allegation of sexual assault, which is the issue that gave rise to our initial concern,” the organization said in a statement.

Peng Shuai is a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion
Peng Shuai is a former Wimbledon and French Open doubles champion AFP / Eric Feferberg