Miami | Mixed results for veteran stars

Veterans hogged the limelight on the first day of the Miami Open presented by Itaú, with Caroline Wozniacki beating Clara Burel, while Diana Shnaider felled the great Venus Williams, and Paula Badosa put paid to the returning Simona Halep’s hopes.

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. Simona Halep

After her 6-1 6-4 win over the Frenchwoman, Wozniacki, the great Dane, took a swipe at Halep, who fell 1-6 6-4 6-3 to the Spaniard.

While fans gave Halep a warm welcome back, she received a frostier reception from the former World No 1.

“I’ve been very outspoken in the past how I feel about doping, and all of that,” Wozniacki told the media, adding that she likes Halep. “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 accepted a wild-card into the Miami Open after her 4-year suspension was reduced down to 9 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The former Wimbledon and French Open champion from Romania was suspended in October 2022 after testing positive for roxadustat, a banned drug that stimulates the production of red blood cells, at the US Open.

Halep has vigorously denied the charges against her, and was again defending herself on Tuesday when told of Wozniacki’s comments.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Halep. “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,” she added..

“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.”


Caroline Wozniacki came through her opening match against Clara Burel comfortably enough and then took a swipe at Simona Halep's wild-card

© Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Wozniacki, also a former World No 1 and the 2018 Australian Open champion, needed only an hour and 17 minutes to defeat Burel, and will next face Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina, the No 32 seed, for a spot in the 3rd-round.

“Conditions are a lot different here than playing in Indian Wells,” Wozniacki said later. “It’s a lot faster. The ball is different. Everything is different but you know, I’m just happy to be through to the next round, getting my rhythm today, and I felt I played pretty decent when you think about all of the changes that have been going on the last couple of days.”

The 33-year-old returned to the tour last season after 4 years away, during which time she gave birth to 2 children.

“I’m back playing too, and it’s nice,” she added, with a trademark smile.


Simona Halep found herself having to defend herself against Caroline Wozniacki's inferences

© Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Halep, who won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon in 2019, was halted by Badosa, who prevailed after 2 minutes short of 2 hours on Grandstand.

This was the Spaniard’s first win since Doha, in February, and the former World No 2 is currently ranked at 80.

“Today, I know, that even though she hasn’t been playing for a long time, for me, it was the same because she’s still Simona Halep,” Badosa said. “Yeah, I’m happy that I got the win, and could fight until the end, and mentally I could get through that.”

Halep looked fit, but seemed to tire as the match wore on, and, late in the 3rd set, sitting in the changeover chair, she covered her head with a towel.

The Romanian scored the 1st break-through 9 minutes into the match, blasting a backhand crosscourt winner to take a 2-1 lead.

Later, with Badosa serving at 1-3, Halep converted her 2nd break point with another smooth backhand into the open court, and, serving at 4-1, she weathered a gruelling game of 9 deuces, including saving 4 break points, to advance, before closing out the opener with her 3rd straight break of the Badosa serve, when a crosscourt forehand winner drew a big smile and familiar fist pump.

Badosa pushed ahead, breaking Halep in the 3rd game of the second, and held onto that lead to send the contest into a deciding set.

Again, in the 3rd game, Badosa bettered Halep’s serve to move ahead 2-1, and when the Romanian broke back, the Spaniard made it 3 consecutive breaks to go up 3-2, an advantage that held up the rest of the way.

Halep finished with 10 double-faults and saved 7 of 11 break points, and while they both fires 5 aces each, Badosa held the edge in most of the stat categories.

“I missed this,” Halep said at the beginning of a well-attended press conference. “I had emotions, but positive emotions, the crowd supporting me so nice. The level of tennis was pretty good — unexpected for most of the people.

“I think I did a good job today. I’m happy with my first match coming back. I would rate it as a special day, honestly.”

Badosa, who has been struggling with injuries, is now 5-5 for the year, while Halep returns after an 18-month absence from the Hologic WTA Tour.

Two weeks ago, CAS, the top court for global sport, reduced her ban and Miami Open Tournament Director James Blake offered her a wild-card into the main draw.

Asked if she had set goals for her come-back, Halep responded: “Very early [to say]. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect from the decision, and I didn’t plan anything. I said ‘I’m going to wait, then plan’.

“The love for tennis brought me here. I came here, and I felt, again, the love for sport.

“I am going home, and I will need to practice harder because the level is very high these days. Tennis is very powerful, [and] I was a little worried about how I was going to handle it. But it was not that bad. It’s just the first match.”

Badosa too was apprehensive, about facing Halep, struggling with a persistent lower back injury, and making her own come-back in Miami.

I didn’t like it at all,” she admitted. “I mean, I’m going to be honest. Even if Simona is 10 years without competing, she’s still Simona. She’s a big player. She’s won so many titles. I respect her so much.”

Despite Halep’s defeat, Badosa believes that the two-time Grand Slam champion will soon return to the top of the rankings.

“I mean, today I was impressed. I think she’s going to be back on the top very soon,” she added. “These kind of players, you can never doubt about them because they’ve been great champions,”


43-year old and 7-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams pushed Diana Shnaider hard in both sets but fell to the young Russian on Day 1 in Miami

© Brennan Asplen/Getty Images

Earlier, another great champion, 7-time Major winner Venus Williams, met her match in the young Russian, Diana Shnaider, going down in straight sets after an hour and 19 minutes.

It was a contest of contrasts, with Williams, at 43, the oldest player in the 2024 main draw, and Shnaider, at 19, one of 6 teenagers competing in Miami this year.

The American was playing her 85th main-draw match in Miami, another tournament record, now held jointly with her sister Serena, while Shnaider was playing her first, having fallen in the 1st-round of qualifying to German Laura Siegemund on her debut last year.

Shnaider, ranked 62, held the edge in form, having claimed her first WTA Tour title last month in Hua Hin, and reaching the Charleston WTA 125 final last week.

Williams was playing just her 2nd tournament of the year following a 7-month injury layoff, and is ranked 457.

She fell in the 1st-round of Indian Wells to Nao Hibino from Japan a fortnight ago, and has not won a match since defeating Russian Veronika Kudermetova in the opening round of Cincinnati last August.

The former World No 1, though, forced Shnaider to work hard for the win, displaying some vintage ball-striking and leading by an early break in the second set.

She responded to the loss of the first set by unleashing at the start of the second, getting on the front foot to break Shnaider twice, and holding 5 points to lead 3-1, but the left-handed Russian prevailed, striking 22 winners to Williams’s 15, and kept her unforced error count down to 14 compared to the American’s 24.

Six American double-faults also contributed to the loss, including one on break point in the penultimate game of the match.

Shnaider’s forehand found winners at several crucial junctures, including 3 to break Williams in the final game of the first set, while she also impressed with her front-running ability.

Once she had navigated the tight early exchanges, she ran away with both sets, rattling off 4 straight games to win the first, and 3 straight to win the second.

Shnaider will now face another American, No 17 seed Madison Keys, in the 2nd-round, bidding for her 3rd-career Top 20 win.

When asked about Williams’s will to keep on playing competitively, Wozniacki said: “It’s amazing to see Venus still out there. I mean, she’s 43 years old. She’s a legend of the game. She’s won so much. And really, she’s earned the right to do whatever she wants to do.

“She wants to play another 10 years, so that’s great. If she never wants to play again, that’s also great. I think it’s just such an inspiration to see her be playing and fit, out there, and competing against all these youngsters.

“It’s not easy, and it takes a lot of hard work behind the scenes, and practice and taking care of your body. I think it’s always great to see her in the draw, she still loves playing so I think as long as she wants to play. I’m all for her playing where she wants when she wants.” added the Dane.


Paula Badosa came from a set down to beat former World No 1 Simona Halep in her opener on Tuesday

© Brennan Asplen/Getty Images

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