Written by Vera Eckert, CNN
There are high-performance sports cars, tiny fighter planes, supercars and more than 10-million-yuan yachts, but world-famous Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai has just revealed a somewhat different purchase to anyone else — a mastodon.
The 31-year-old was recently given the life-size horned beast by a local government in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning and showcased it during her latest match in the Shenzhen Open
When the official who gave her the gift asked for directions to the comfort of the tram lines in the city center, Peng laughed it off.
“I knew he wasn’t serious, so I handed him some dirty-fingered stuff to remind him of the meaning,” she told ESPN. “He was already surprised.”
The mastodon doesn’t need to be maintained for long. Image: LP/Getty Images
Thanks to her decision to “head outside the city limits,” Peng has a delightful phobia on her hands. “If I ever come back to where I played,” she said, “I am gonna have a big parade.”
Rivals don’t seem to be too enamored by her decision to make the long journey.
“Look at her. You have to live somewhere,” said Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. “I mean, I go to Africa and build those things, and I enjoy it. I don’t have to be stuck in my house anymore.”
Still, Peng’s visit to the gallery in Shenzhen — an island off the northeast coast of China with a population of just 10 million people — didn’t go entirely without some conflict.
The Japanese and Hong Kong pro tournaments refused to hold matches on the island in 1992, after it hosted the Summer Olympics. And the competition remained off-limits to international tennis players until 2015, when the new Stadium Shenzhen, which has about a 10,000-capacity, hosted Roger Federer.
The stadium has finally been granted an international status. Image: flickr, luis lao
Peng is one of the top 10 players in the world, based on her ranking on Wednesday — nearly a level above France’s Kristina Mladenovic. Her prize money at Shenzhen so far this year is nearly US$213,000, while the Brazilian Open is scheduled for Nov. 4-11, when she could earn over $825,000.
According to the Women’s Tennis Association, no one — not even an ex-routine cyclist — has ever brought one of the Ancient Earthenware sculptures onto the Tour de France race course.
“We had no problem whatsoever, and we have no plans to change our plans,” said Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme, when asked about the fact that the mastodon was seen briefly on the terrace of the start line by some media.
Despite, or perhaps because of the mastodon, there is no suggestion that Peng’s Nike-sponsored tennis tour is anything but successful. Last year, her first year without rival Serena Williams on the circuit, she won three singles titles — the first in 10 years — and was named the Chinese Tennis Association’s female athlete of the year.
And, what’s more, if you believe Pantherella Refaeli, one of the world’s most famous models, Peng is more than qualified to be the celebrity face of Nike. “When I see all the things she does and people care about her, it’s a wonderful thing,” she told CNN Sport.