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Returning Halep rails at Wozniacki after 'cheat' comments

By AFP

March 20, 2024 11:02 AM


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Simona Halep returned to tennis on Tuesday, losing in three sets to Spaniard Paula Badosa at the Miami Open and then hit back at Caroline Wozniacki after the Dane criticised the decision to give her a wildcard into the tournament.

Former world number one Halep was given a warm welcome by the Miami crowd before fading as she lost 6-1, 4-6, 3-6 in her first game since the 2022 US Open.

But while the Romanian flags and chants of her name showed she retains plenty of support after having her doping ban reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last week, former world number one Wozniacki questioned the way Halep was allowed into the tournament.

"This is not directly at Simona, but if someone purposely cheats, if someone has tested positive for doping... I understand why a tournament wants a big star in the tournament, but it's my personal belief, and it's not a knock on anyone, but it's my personal belief that I don't think people should be awarded wild cards afterwards," said the Dane.

"If you want to come back, and it's been a mistake, I understand, you should work your way up from the bottom. That's my personal opinion upon things.

"Simona's situation has obviously dragged on for a long time. She got her suspension reduced. It wasn't a clearance, it was a reduced sentence," she added.

Asked about Wozniacki's comments, Halep said she did not understand her motivation.

"Why did she say that? I didn't do anything wrong. I didn't cheat. I didn't dope. So it's better if we read the decision from CAS that it was a contaminated supplement, it wasn't doping. I never had something to do with doping. I never doped, so I'm not a cheater.

"Thank you to the tournament for giving me the wild card and have the possibility to play in such a big tournament. It was great to be back," said the 32-year-old.

"Only one person being negative about me is not that important because I have hundreds of people that are giving me love, so I will take that," added Halep.

Halep looked like her old self in the opening set, cheered on by a small but passionate crowd, including many of her compatriots, she struggled later in the near two-hour contest.

There were the familiar chants of 'Simona' as she broke to go 4-1 up in the first set and the fist-pump showed the level of motivation after her lengthy, enforced absence.

But she needed treatment to her shoulder during the second set and she lost the accuracy of her serve while looking increasingly tired.

But she was upbeat about her fist match after such a long absence from the court.

- Positive emotions -

"It felt really good. I had emotions, but positive emotions. To see the crowd supporting me so nice gave me a lot of energy. The level of tennis was pretty good. Unexpected, I think, for most of the people.

"At this high level, like Paula played, I think I did a good job today. So I'm happy with the first match coming back," she said.

Halep's career had been on hold since October 7, 2022, the date of the start of her provisional suspension after testing positive for roxadustat at the US Open.

The winner of the 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon singles titles was then caught up in a second affair, this time "irregularities" in the data of her biological passport.

She was handed a four-year ban by the  International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) which would have effectively ended her career.

Halep appealed to CAS in February, arguing her positive test for roxadustat -- used to treat anaemia and banned as a blood doping agent -- was the result of a tainted supplement.

CAS determined that Halep had "established, on the balance of probabilities" that the banned substance did come from the contaminated product and her violations were therefore "not intentional."

CAS also ruled that the "irregularities" cited by the ITIA in Halep's biological passport, a longterm monitoring tool of an athlete's blood indicators that can provide evidence of doping, did not, in fact, support "the doping scenarios put forward by the ITIA."

Halep had protested her innocence and refused to accept the ITIA decision, which would have kept her off the courts until October 6, 2026.


AFP


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