Simona Halep loses on return from doping ban while Caroline Wozniacki criticizes awarding of Romanian’s wild card

Simona Halep lost in her first match back since returning from her doping ban, losing in three sets, 6-1 4-6 3-6, to Paula Badosa at the Miami Open on Tuesday.

The two-time grand slam champion was making her first appearance on court since the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced her backdated four-year doping ban to nine months earlier this month, allowing her to return to competitive tennis.

Halep was awarded a wild card spot to take part in the Miami Open shortly afterwards, a decision 2018 Australian Open winner Caroline Wozniacki criticized.

Speaking after her first-round victory over Clara Burel, Wozniacki said that she believes people in Halep’s position should have to work their “way up from the bottom,” rather than be handed a wild card entry.

“I have always wanted a clean sport, fair for everybody. I think it’s definitely still my opinion,” the Danish player told reporters. “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.

“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.”

Wozniacki, a former world No. 1, said “clean sport” is imperative to her and is something she says has been pivotal in her career and a principle she implores to her children.

“I want to have good role models for the young generation. It’s a sport that has a lot of money in it, a lot of competitiveness, a lot of competitors. I want a fair fight,” she said.

Wozniacki looks on during her match against Clara Burel at the Miami Open. - Megan Briggs/Getty Images
Wozniacki looks on during her match against Clara Burel at the Miami Open. - Megan Briggs/Getty Images

When Wozniacki’s comments were put to her during a post-match press conference, a bemused Halep replied: “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,” the Romanian told reporters.

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

Former world No. 1 Halep was handed the initial four-year ban in September 2023 after being found guilty of anti-doping rule violations by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) Independent Tribunal.

Halep tested positive for banned substance Roxadustat – which is listed on the 2022 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List – at the 2022 US Open. According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), it is a class of drug called HIF-stabilizing agents and can increase an athlete’s red blood cell count and boost endurance performance.

Before the CAS ruling, the ITIA had said that Halep’s suspension would run from October 7, 2022, until October 6, 2026.

Halep has consistently maintained her innocence.

Although she started strongly against Badosa, racing into a one-set lead thanks to a comprehensive 6-1 performance, the Romanian star faded late on, perhaps down to her lack of court time since October 2022.

World No. 80 Badosa was able to take advantage of any rust on Halep’s part, breaking her as the match wore on to claim an important victory.

Despite the result, Halep expressed her delight at finally being able to return to the court.

“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.”

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