The world of tennis is shocked at the news that Simona Help, a former World No 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, has been provisionally suspended following a positive test at the US Open for the anti-anaemia drug Roxadustat, which increases the production of red blood cells through the endogenous production of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO).
Shocked with this @Simona_Halep news. I’ll reserve my thoughts until she has gone thru the process of investigating how it happened & how it ended up in her system. She's never struck me as someone who would cheat to get ahead. Hope this is a mistake, If not, then this is terrible. Rennae Stubbs
The International Tennis Integrity Association (ITIA) confirmed both A and B samples taken in New York showed traces of the banned substance.
Social media posts included one from her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who said that he is fully behind his player, while former 6-time Grand Slam doubles champion and television pundit Rennae Stubbs is reserving judgement.
“I support you 100% in this fight, Simona,” Mouratoglou wrote on his Instagram profile. “All the way through.”
Shortly after the ITIA announced Halep’s suspension, the Romanian released a statement insisting she would never cheat.
“I have been notified that I have tested positive for a substance called Roxadustat in an extremely low quantity, which came as the biggest shock of my life,” she stated. “Throughout my whole career, the idea of cheating never even crossed my mind once, as it is totally against all the values I have been educated with.
“Facing 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.”
In April, Halep and Mouratoglou kicked off their working relationships with positive results as she won 2 titles this season and rose back up the rankings to No 9 but, after the US Open, where the Romanian lost in the 1st-round, Halep called an end to her season in order to undergo nose surgery to help her breathing.
Mouratoglou announced around 10 days ago that he had accepted to coach Holger Rune until the end of this season, pointing out that Halep had gave him the permission to do so while she recovered from her surgery.
Stubbs reacted on Twitter to the news: “Shocked with this @Simona_Halep news. I’ll reserve my thoughts until she has gone thru the process of investigating how it happened & how it ended up in her system.
“She’s never struck me as someone who would cheat to get ahead. Hope this is a mistake, If not, then this is terrible.”
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic’s Professional Tennis Players Association has released a statement in support of Halep, the 2019 Wimbledon champion, who is now 31-years old.
“The PTPA is committed to ensure that Simona Halep, like all other tennis players, has a fair trial during the entire process,” the statement read. “We will fight for her rights and try to insist on transparency for all other tennis players.”
Halep is the most noteworthy player since Maria Sharapova in 2016 to fail a drugs test. The Russian 5-time Grand Slam champion’s ban was reduced from 2 years to 15 months after her appeal.
In 2017, Halep was critical of Sharapova being given wild-card entries into tournaments after her ban, telling Fox Sports: “It’s not OK to help with a wild-card [for] the player that was banned for doping.”
Now it is the Romanian who could face up to a 4 year ban from the sport, although this could be reduced, usually by a year, if a player confesses to doping, but Halep says she plans to dispute the findings.
Fans and players have been quick to come to her defence on social media, among them Alizé Cornet, who replied in the comment section of Halep’s statement on Twitter: “With you all the way Simona it’s [heart emoji] unfair but you will win this fight.”
Halep has had a tumultuous 2022, both on and off the court, suffering a panic attack during a match at the French Open in May, and divorcing her billionaire husband, Toni Iuruc, in September after being married for less than a year.
“It’s new and I didn’t know how to handle it,” she told Eurosport in Paris after her panic attack. “It was tough to breathe, and I was not very clear in what I’m doing.”
Halep added she believed that the nerves were due to the various injuries she had endured the preceding years, coupled with anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic.
“My brain was not very strong,” Halep admitted, adding that she would bounce back.
Following the announcement of the divorce, a tabloid in Romania speculated that the 2018 French Open champion’s relationship with Mouratoglou was the cause of the rift in her marriage, and then, in September, around the same time, she announced that she was shutting down for the year after undergoing elective nose surgery.
“I was going through so many anxious moments, and I thought it is time to stop, cause it is emotionally unhealthy,” she wrote in a Twitter post at the time.
Now Halep has failed a drug test, and she faces being away from the game for much longer than she thought.
The suspension means that she cannot compete in or attend any sanctioned events organised by the governing bodies of tennis.