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AP scores exclusive WTA interview on Peng Shuai, suspension of China tournaments

FILE - Peng Shuai of China serves against Monica Niculescu of Romania during their women's singles match of the China Open tennis tournament at the Diamond Court in Beijing, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. The head of the women’s professional tennis tour announced Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, that all WTA tournaments would be suspended in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai, a Grand Slam doubles champion who accused a former high-ranking government official in that country of sexual assault. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

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As the world watched for news on Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai after she dropped out of public view, veteran AP tennis writer Howard Fendrich landed an exclusive interview with the head of the Women’s Tennis Association, which announced suspension of its tournaments in China.

Fendrich has developed strong contacts and sources over years of covering professional tennis. He was on assignment in Colorado for his Olympic beat, alpine skiing, when a source called him with a tip that the WTA’s announcement was coming. That heads-up gave Fendrich time to file the breaking story and also ask the WTA head’s top aide — a contact Fendrich has known for years on the beat — to let him interview WTA President and CEO Steve Simon that day. Fendrich made the case that while the quotes in the WTA release were fine, they left many key questions unanswered.

The WTA agreed and Fendrich conducted the interview over Zoom. The resulting story broke the news that the WTA was willing to stay out of China beyond next year if necessary,risking millions of dollars in revenue. China typically hosts about 10 women’s tennis tournaments each year,including the prestigious season-ending WTA Finals.

Simon also told AP exclusively that he was not convinced Peng was safe and said he asked China for a full investigation into her sexual assault claimsagainst a former vice premier. News outlets featured Fendrich’s story or had to attribute Simon’s quotes to AP,while ESPN ran Fendrich’s story at the top of their tennis page for hours.

For landing a key interview that broke news on a highly competitive story, Fendrich wins AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner honors.

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