Naomi Osaka raised the issue of Chinese player Peng Shuai after her first-round win at the Australian Open ©Getty Images

Four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka has admitted she remains concerned for Chinese player Peng Shuai but praised the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) for how it has handled the situation.

Fears over the welfare of Peng have been prominent since she made allegations of sexual assault against a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party (CCP) official in early November.

The two-time Grand Slam doubles champion has rarely been seen in public since, save for a few stage-managed appearances.

Peng last month reportedly retracted the allegations against Zhang Gaoli, a former senior vice-premier and senior CCP official, but there have been concerns over the legitimacy of her comments.

The Chinese player reportedly added that it was her who sent an email to WTA chief executive and chair Steve Simon in November, published by Chinese state media, in which the author claimed Peng was "not missing, nor am I unsafe" and that the allegation of sexual assault "is not true".

Simon expressed doubt over whether Peng had written the message at the time - the language was stylistically similar to the prose of English-language Chinese state media and the email was shared via a screenshot where the author's cursor was visible, indicating it has not been sent - but Peng told Lianhe Zaobao it was written "completely out of my own will".

The WTA, which pulled all events from China in response to the crisis, admitted it still had "significant concerns about her well-being and ability to communicate without censorship or coercion".

Osaka, speaking after her first-round win over Camila Osorio of Colombia at the Australian Open in Melbourne, said she "had not heard any news" about Peng.

Several players have expressed concern over the welfare of Peng Shuai ©Getty Images
Several players have expressed concern over the welfare of Peng Shuai ©Getty Images

"I’m not sure if that’s concerning or not," the Japanese former world number one said.

"But I think the WTA, the whole organisation, they handled it really well. 

"I feel like it’s a situation where we need more information, which is definitely really hard. 

"Kind of I think everyone is waiting."

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is among the only organisations to have had direct contact with Peng, a three-time Olympian.

It held two video calls with Peng late last year, but critics argued this has played into the hands of Chinese propaganda.

IOC President Thomas Bach insisted in December that "all aspects of this case are being discussed with the Chinese side", in the face of criticism of them not mentioning the allegation of sexual assault in any of its communications on the matter.

China's Foreign Ministry has accused others of "malicious hyping" and "politicisation" of the Peng case.

It has proved a major controversy in the build-up to the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, scheduled to open on February 4.