Chengdu's Sichuan International Tennis Center is set to host the ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Finals ©Getty Images

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) has advanced its plans for a return to China after the Peng Shuai scandal, awarding October's World Tennis Tour Junior Finals to Chengdu.

Tennis bodies are preparing to return to China for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic with restrictions on international travel eased.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) had suspended tournaments in China in December 2021 following global concern over the safety of Peng, who was reportedly not seen for more than two weeks after accusing former senior vice-premier and high-ranking Chinese Communist Party member Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault.

Earlier this month, it lifted its suspension despite admitting "we will never fully secure" its goals including a "full and transparent investigation" into the two-time women's doubles Grand Slam winner's claims.

The ITF, whose President David Haggerty said it did not want to "punish a billion people" after the Peng allegations were made, welcomed the WTA's stance.

It has planned a return to China from June 5 to 11 for the women's Luzhou Open Hardcourt W25 tournament, and has awarded another of its major events in the World Tennis Tour Junior Finals to the country.

The Tour is open to players aged 18 and under, with the Finals marking the culmination of more than 800 events for the top eight boys and girls on the qualification rankings as of September 11.

A wildcard place is reserved for one Chinese player if they finish in the top 25 but not in the top eight.

ITF President and IOC member David Haggerty said he is
ITF President and IOC member David Haggerty said he is "pleased to bring it back to China" ©Getty Images

A Chinese player in the top 100 is also set to serve as an alternate player should anyone withdraw.

Winners of both events in the Finals stand to win $17,000 (£13,700/€15,500) in travel grants to support their future progression in professional tennis.

Chengdu held the Finals from 2015 to 2019 before the pandemic led to the event's cancellation.

Haggerty, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member in the United States, said he was pleased to return to the Sichuan International Tennis Center from October 16 to 22.

"The ITF World Tennis Tour Junior Finals is a prestigious event that is always a really exciting way to end the juniors season, and I am looking forward to seeing the potential stars of the future competing in Chengdu," he said.

"The event provides the ideal platform for players to progress through the ITF World Tennis Tour, which is the main artery into the top levels of the game, so this event is a significant milestone for some of the most talented young players in the world and we’re pleased to bring it back to China."

Tennis bodies have been criticised for their planned return to China in light of the Peng Shuai scandal ©Getty Images
Tennis bodies have been criticised for their planned return to China in light of the Peng Shuai scandal ©Getty Images

Previous winners of the World Tennis Tour Junior Finals include Russia's mixed doubles Olympic champion Andrey Rublev and Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk, and past participants include Norway's two-time Grand Slam finalist Casper Ruud and Kazakhstan's Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.

Discussing the WTA's return to China, Haggerty said the ITF had "received reassurance that it is safe for players, their families and teams to compete in China", and would continue seeking assurances about Peng's "ongoing safety".

Peng initially posted a 1,600-word essay on social media platform Weibo claiming that Zhang had repeatedly forced her into sex over a period of several years.

She was then not seen for several weeks before retracting the comments, claiming that her post was "an enormous misunderstanding" and that she was retiring from tennis.

IOC President Thomas Bach was pictured on a number of occasions with Peng at last year's Winter Olympics in Beijing, but concerns for her safety have continued and protesters are critical of the relationship between tennis and China.