London | Halep opts out of BJK Cup to play WTA 125 in Portugal

Former World No 1 Simona Halep is determined to make the most of her return to competition, and doesn’t mind what level she plays as she tries to regain her form after missing 19 months because of suspension from the tour due to a failed doping test at the 2022 US Open.

I’m very excited to add a new tournament to my calendar. On my return to the WTA circuit I intend to play as many matches as possible and accepting this wild-card gives me the opportunity to do so in front of the Portuguese public. Simona Halep

The 32-year old tested positive for the substance, Roxudustat, but succeeded in getting the initial ban reduced from 4 years to 9 months on appeal, and was free for an immediate return to the sport.

Halep made her return last month at the Miami Open, having been awarded a wild-card as a former Grand Slam champion, but lost in the 1st-round to Paula Badosa.

“I would rate it as a special day, honestly, considering the period I had,” she said. “Playing so well, feeling so well on court, feeling so well outside of the court, with so many people that are very nice to me, and giving me the love, I would say that this day is going to stay very special for me.

“Of course, I had many results in the past, big results. 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.”

Halep is now ranked 1144, and therefore reliant on invitation wild-cards, something that Caroline Wozniacki vocally objects to.

The 33-year-old Dane disapproved of Halep being handed a main draw spot in Miami, staying consistent with the stance she previously took against Maria Sharapova.

“I’ve been very outspoken in the past about how I feel about doping and all of that,” Wozniacki said in Miami. “I have always wanted a clean sport, fair for everybody. I think it’s definitely still my opinion.

“This is not directly at Simona, but if someone purposely 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.

“If you want to come back, and it’s been a mistake, I understand, you should work your way up from the bottom.”

Halep responded in forthright fashion, stating: “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 having the possibility to play in such a big tournament. It was great to be back.”

Caroline Wozniacki was outspoken in Miami over awarding wild-cards to players returning from a doping suspension

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ironically, both Wozniacki and Halep, both Grand Slam champions and former World No 1s, will be in action at the Mutua Madrid Open, the first WTA 1000 clay court event of the year, which starts on 23 April in Spain, after receiving wild-cards into the main draw, no doubt fuelling further debate.

Halep, who claimed consecutive titles in Madrid in 2016 and 2017, beating Dominika Cibulkova and Kristina Mladenovic respectively, and was also a finalist in 2014 and 2019, is hoping to conjure up more tricks at the Caja Magica.

Wozniacki, too, has met with some success in Madrid, reaching the final back at the event in 2009.

Meanwhile, Halep has opted to get some European clay court match practice in before then.

She had planned to fulfil her Billie Jean King Cup Qualifiers duty for Romania against Ukraine this week at Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach, in Florida, but has since opted out, citing injury.

In Miami, Halep had cruised through the opening set against Badosa, and had chances in the second, as the Spaniard slowly gained control.

In the decider, Halep showed signs of shoulder discomfort, and took a medical time-out, and it seems the problem has persisted, although she has yet to offer an explanation to medical issue.

Simona Halep, who lost her first match back in Miami to Paula Badosa, is determined to play as many matches as she can and to get her ranking back to where it was before her suspension

© Brennan Asplen/Getty Images

The 2019 Wimbledon champion, though, sounds optimistic ahead of next week’s WTA 125 in Oeiras, Portugal, and clearly is prepared to work hard to get her ranking back where she wants it to be, after 19 months on the sidelines.

“I’m very excited to add a new tournament to my calendar,” she said after accepting the WTA 125k wild-card for next week. “On my return to the WTA circuit I intend to play as many matches as possible and accepting this wild-card gives me the opportunity to do so in front of the Portuguese public.

“I want to thank the tournament for having me and I can’t wait to be there.”

She drops down a level to play at a tournament, where Camila Osorio is the top seed, hoping for a good run of match play.



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