Halep ignores Wozniacki comments on ‘special’ return from doping ban in Miami


Simona Halep didn’t know what to expect after not playing competitive tennis for 19 months.

But then she went on court at the Miami Open on Tuesday, felt the love from the crowd, the same love she has felt walking the grounds at Hard Rock Stadium the past week, and already it was “a special day.”

Paula Badosa beat Halep 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 in their first round match, but for Halep the result barely mattered after she nearly lost her career to a doping ban that the top court in sports largely tossed out earlier this month. 

“I had many results in the past — big results,” Halep, a Wimbledon champion and former world No 1, said after the loss. “But here it’s something more than tennis, it’s something personal. I really love to see that people are appreciating me beside tennis and beside everything that happened.”

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Simona Halep congratulates Paula Badosa after their match at the Miami Open (Brennan Asplen/Getty Images)

It was the 32-year-old’s first match since the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) nullified a four-year doping ban that a panel levied against her in September, when that panel agreed with the arguments of the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) that Halep intentionally took the anemia drug Roxadustat to artificially improve her endurance.

Halep tested positive for Roxadustat in August 2022. Roxadustat stimulates hemoglobin and red blood cell production, which allows for more endurance. The drug does this by getting the body to produce more erythropoietin, a hormone commonly referred to as “EPO”, which plays an important role in producing red blood cells. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body, which has long made EPO a particularly common performance-enhancing substance in professional cycling. The ITIA also accused Halep of possibly getting blood transfusions to enhance her endurance.

Other than acknowledging that she accidentally took Roxadustat when she tried a new nutritional supplement before the 2022 U.S. Open, Halep maintained her innocence, especially regarding intentional doping. Her case became both a cautionary tale and a rallying cry for players who have complained about the drawn-out process and the possible end of a career for a player that few suspected of cheating. Those cries became even louder when CAS ruled that the drug probably got into her system accidentally and reduced her sentence to nine months, freeing her to begin competing immediately. 

Halep knew she needed more practice, but when the Miami Open quickly offered her a wild card entry, she accepted it.   

“I came just because the boost, the love for tennis, just brought me here,” she said. “It was fast because it was just a few days after the decision, but I’m really happy that I did it. I came here and I felt again the love for the sport.”

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Halep accepted a wild card to play in Miami (Brennan Asplen/Getty Images)

Not all of Halep’s competitors were thrilled with her presence. Caroline Wozniacki, another former world No 1 who is mounting a comeback, said she did not think that players with doping offences should receive wild cards. 

“This is not directly at Simona, but if someone purposefully cheats, if someone has tested positive for doping… it’s my personal belief that I don’t think people should be awarded wild cards afterwards,” Wozniacki said after her win on Tuesday. “If you want to come back, and it’s been a mistake, I understand, you should work your way up from the bottom.”

Halep said she didn’t do anything wrong, didn’t cheat and didn’t dope. Her argument was she merely took a tainted collagen supplement contaminated with low levels of Roxadustat. And she was not about to let Wozniacki’s comments ruin her afternoon. 

“Only one person being negative about me is not that important because I have hundreds of people giving me love, so I will take that,” she said. 

Halep lost the first five points during an edgy start, but then she settled, realized she could still hold her own on the court and won the next six games. 

“I just relaxed myself and I said, ‘Okay, I’m not that bad, it’s going to be okay,” she said. “I just had to believe and to just be focused. I knew it’s going to be tough, but it was really good in the end.”

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Simona Halep gets her biggest win — but there is no making up for lost time

Halep said she didn’t play much tennis in the past few months as she waited for her case to wind its way through the system, but she kept running and going to the gym to maintain her fitness. Now she will head home to Europe to work on her tennis.

And what is her advice to other players? “They have to be worried about everything they eat, they do,” she said. “Sometimes it can happen unexpectedly. It’s a stress for everybody. We have just to believe that something like what happened to me doesn’t happen to them because it’s terrible.

“It has been a terrible period for me and very stressful emotionally. The advice is just to check what they take and to be aware about everything. It’s tough to say to give an advice because I don’t wish anyone to go through what I went through.”

(Top photo: Brennan Asplen/Getty Images)





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