Simona Halep has been spotted training at the Stejarii Complex in Romania, which is is owned by Ion Tiriac, her first sighting on court since the news broke that the Romanian two-time Grand Slam champion had been provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Integrity Agency last month for failing at drug test taken at the US Open.
Simona, from my point of view, seems like a person who always cared about being fair and she was a great example for me. I don’t know how it works in terms of the system... Is she going to be tested a couple of more times or whatever? Hopefully it’s going to be more clear for fans and for us. But it’s disappointing, and she must feel really bad. Iga Świątek
The 31-year-old supplied a sample that contained traces of the banned substance Roxadustat, and has declared she did not knowingly take the drug before opening legal proceedings to appeal the suspension.
Both her A and B samples confirmed the presence of the anti-anaemia drug that stimulates the production of red blood cells, much like the prohibited substance Erythropoietin.
“Today begins the hardest game of my life: the battle for truth,” she stated on social media when the news broke. “I have been informed that I have tested positive for taking a substance called Roxadustat in an extremely low amount.
“It’s the biggest shock of my life. Throughout my career, the idea of cheating has never crossed my mind even once, because it totally goes against all the values I was brought up through.
“Faced with such an unfair situation, I feel completely confused and betrayed. I will fight until the end to prove that I never knowingly took any prohibited substance and I have faith that, sooner or later, the truth will come out.
“It’s not about the titles or money. It’s about honour, and the love story I have developed with the game of tennis over the last 25 years.”
Halep was defeated by Daria Snigur in the 1st-round of the New York Open before undergoing surgery on her nose and missing the rest of the season.
The suspension stunned the sporting world.
“I believe she didn’t do something intentionally,” WTA CEO Steve Simon said. “That said, I strongly believe in our anti-doping program, and I think it’s good, and our players support it too. And if you ask Simona, she supports it.
“I am very confident that as we move forward in the process, the truth will come out and we will address it accordingly. But I have a lot of sympathy for Simona, because I would never question her integrity.”
World No 1 Iga Swiatek’s reaction was one of confusion and disappointment.
“Well, for sure it was confusing to me because I wouldn’t expect hearing this news,” Swiatek said at the WTA Finals in Fort Worth. “Simona, from my point of view, seems like a person who always cared about being fair and she was a great example for me.
“I don’t know how it works in terms of the system… Is she going to be tested a couple of more times or whatever? Hopefully it’s going to be more clear for fans and for us. But it’s disappointing, and she must feel really bad.
“From my point of view, the most important thing for me is just taking care of myself, being safe always, making my environment more safe, and being careful. So we’ll do that.”
Halep’s ex-coach Darren Cahill, who worked with the former World No 1 for 6 years and guided her to her first Grand Slam title, said there was ‘no chance’ she had knowingly taken a prohibited substance, while Patrick Mouratoglou, who currently works with Halep, fully agreed.
Elsewhere, her former medical advisor revealed that she has been taking daily medication for years.
“Simone’s brother told me that, over the course of 6 years, Simona took 106 anti-doping tests,” Dana Safta, an ENT doctor and doctor of medical sciences, told CNN’s Antena 3. “On September 21, she took another test in Romania, which came out negative. On October 7, she was given another test, also negative.
“I have Simona’s consent to reveal to you that she was taking Euthyrox 50mcg daily and a contraceptive pill.
“The nose operation went wonderfully. If she had taken Roxadustat she would have been in danger of thrombosis.
“I asked Simona what she was doing with the water bottles in the dressing room. She said she always closes them and puts them in her bag. This is not put in any bunk, but neither could someone do something like that… put something in her bottle.
“I’ve known Simona for a few years, our relationship was doctor-patient 8-9 years ago and from there was built a friendship, a soul relationship, and medical counselling, which of course I did because she trusted me and I was correct in what I needed to do for her medically, and afterward, of course, helping her overcome her emotional state with confidence and everything I could give her as moral support,” Safta continued.
“I certainly cannot accept for a moment the idea that Simona knowingly swallowed Roxadustat. It is not possible.
“Knowing her so well and knowing first of all how she takes care of her body and every time the desire and when she had a prescription in a trivial virus, we judged her prescription according to what the Antidoping list allowed us.”
Meanwhile, the Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA), founded by Vasek Pospisil and Novak Djokovic, which pledged to help Halep with her appeal, has been criticised for its lack of assistance to lower profile players.
“The PTPA is committed to ensuring that Simona Halep, and every player, has a fair appeal and complete due process,” the PTPA statement said. “We will fight for her rights and look to advocate for fairness and transparency for all players.”
It has since been pointed out that a string of lesser ranked players have found themselves in similar situations, but no such help has been forthcoming for them.
“Do the PTPA help other players that are named in the ITIA website or do they just fight for former Grand Slam Champions like Halep? Haven’t seen this statement for others?” one user said on Twitter.
British doubles specialist Tara Moore was among those questioning the PTPA, responding by writing: “Their silence tells you everything.”
Moore went on to sarcastically thank the PTPA for helping her when she faced her doping charge, adding: “Thanks PTPA for helping myself and Barbara Gatica too.”
Moore tested positive for nandrolone metabolites and Boldenone during a WTA tournament in Colombia in April and, like Halep, she has maintained her innocence but has not played since the provisional suspension was announced in June.
“I am investigating how the positive result could have occurred and look forward to proving that I am a clean athlete,” she wrote at the time. “I am deeply saddened by the provisional suspension and hope to be back on the court as soon as possible.”
Halep was due to play in the Africa Cares Women’s Tennis Challenge, an event that will be held at the DP World Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, on 3-4 December, as well as at the new World Tennis League team competition in Dubai from 19-24 December, and has pulled out of both.
That Halep believes she can clear her name was evident when she resumed her training in Romania this week as she awaits the outcome of the legal proceedings.