Simona Halep Hits Out At ITF Over Handling Of Her Doping Suspension - UBITENNIS
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Simona Halep Hits Out At ITF Over Handling Of Her Doping Suspension

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Simona Halep at the 2022 Madrid Open - PHOTO: MATEO VILLALBA / MMO

Simona Halep has claimed that she sent the International Tennis Federation evidence proving that she didn’t deliberately take banned substances but the governing body then denied ever receiving it. 

 

The two-time Grand Slam champion is currently prohibited from participating on the Tour after testing positive for roxadustat following a test that was conducted during last year’s US Open. Roxadustat is a prescribed medicine which has been shown to increase oxygen intake. It is in the same category as EPO, which is another blood-boosting drug, on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of prohibited substances. 

Halep has broken her silence on the ongoing case for the first time this week by giving an extensive interview with Tennis Majors in which she confirmed she is still waiting for her case to be heard. The Romanian says she has sought the help of ‘experts’ to find out why she has tested positive for a banned drug who conclude that it was due to contamination of a supplement she took. 

“I had never heard about it (roxadustat) so I didn’t know how I could take it, and actually how it could be in my urine,” Halep told Tennis Majors.
“After a lot of work, they found out that there was a contamination, a supplement contamination, and that’s why the quantity was so so low in my body. A contamination is when someone takes an authorised supplement, but the company who sells it makes a mistake, and there’s a very low quantity of substance that should not be in there. The experts have worked a lot to find the reason of this contamination and they found out that the supplement was contaminated with a very low quantity of substance.”

Quizzed about who these experts are, Halep said she is not able to disclose their names but describes them as ‘extremely experienced’ in this area. Adding that both concluded it was a case of supplement contamination through their independent investigations. 

Once these findings were established, Halep said she sent the evidence to the ITF last December but the organization denies ever receiving it. The ITF has not commented on this claim. 

“I have sent the evidence to the ITF and they denied it. I sent it in December when we first worked on it. The ITF denied it and we are still going through it,” she said. 
“Since the ITF denied it, the only chance this case has to be solved is to go to the tribunal to have a hearing about my case, and present all the evidence that my positive test was contaminated.”

After a duo of cancellations in her hearings, Halep is unlikely to present her case to a panel until the end of May which would be seven months after she was first notified of her doping violation. A process which she has criticized as unfair. 

“I had a big hope that I could go to the tribunal to have a hearing and then I would know if I could play Indian Wells or not. (A) hearing on February 28th didn’t happen because the ITF requested more time to do additional testing. Even if I was looking through that, the hearing was postponed to March 24th. The ITF requested that the hearing on March 24th should be cancelled.” Said Halep. 
“I did not agree with that because as the rule says, a player that is provisionally suspended is entitled to get an expedited hearing. Everything takes so long. I asked the ITF to lift my sanction to be able to play but they also refused it.”

Despite her ongoing battle, the 31-year-old is determined to continue her career once she is allowed to do so. Halep has won 24 WTA titles and has been runner-up at 18 other tournaments. She has also earned more than $40M in prize money and won over 550 matches. 

I really want to play again because I love this sport and I want to play for the big titles again. I have worked all my life for this.” She stated. 
“Until now, tennis has always been my life. I feel that I want to do it again when I come back. I want to be as strong as I was before, even more if it’s possible. I’m working for that and I know I’m going to struggle because it will be almost eight months without playing an official match and all the pressure there was about this case. I strongly believe that if I work hard, I can play at the highest level again.”

It is reported that Halep’s hearing will take place on May 28th but this hasn’t officially been confirmed. 

UPDATE: Since the publication of this article, the ITF has issued the following statement:-

“The ITF has had no involvement in the management of this case, as the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme is managed and enforced by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) on behalf of the ATP, WTA, ITF and Grand Slams.” An ITF spokesperson has stated.

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Roland Garros Daily Preview: Djokovic, Alcaraz, Wawrinka, Thiem Play on Monday

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Court Suzanne-Lenglen has a new look in 2023, as it’s been fitted for a roof starting next year (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

Day 2 in Paris is the second of three days featuring first round singles action.

 

Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz will make their 2023 Roland Garros debuts on Monday, with both being heavy favorites in their opening rounds.  So this preview will dive deeper into the first round matches of two other Major singles champions: Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem, both of whom are fighting to regain their form of yesteryear.

Two of the day’s other most appetizing matchups include two Italians with previous success at this tournament.  Fabio Fognini will look to upset a top 10 seed when he takes on a struggling Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Martina Trevisan plays a resurgent mother in Elina Svitolina.

Throughout the tournament, this preview will analyze the day’s four most prominent matches, while highlighting the other notable matches on the schedule.  Monday’s play begins at 11:00am local time.


Felix Auger-Aliassime (10) vs. Fabio Fognini – Second on Court Simonne-Mathieu

Auger-Aliassime is a meager 13-9 this season, and just 1-2 on clay.  Felix has not been fully healthy, as only a few days ago, he withdrew from Lyon due to a shoulder injury.  A year ago at this event, he pushed Rafael Nadal to five sets, while being coached by Uncle Toni.  But in this match, FAA is on upset alert, against a former Roland Garros quarterfinalist.

That result for Fognini occurred 12 years ago in Paris.  The biggest title of Fabio’s career also came on this surface, when he won Monte Carlo in 2019.  The 36-year-old Italian is only 4-9 on the year, though two of those victories took place recently on clay in Rome, when he defeated both Andy Murray and Miomir Kecmanovic.

Their only prior encounter also occurred and clay, which was four years ago in Rio.  Felix prevailed in straight sets on that day.  But on this day, the unpredictable Fabio may be a slight favorite to eliminate the tenth seed in the opening round.


Stan Wawrinka vs. Albert Ramos-Vinolas – Second on Court 14

Wawrinka’s French Open title run took place eight years ago.  Stan reached the quarterfinals or better at this tournament in five of the last 10 years.  But injuries have derailed the 38-year-old’s career in recent years, and he’s just 12-10 this season at tour level.

35-year-old Ramos-Vinolas was a quarterfinalist in Paris seven years ago.  His only Masters 1000 final also came on this surface, six years ago in Monte Carlo.  A year ago here, he gave Carlos Alcaraz a scare, going up two-sets-to-one before losing in five.  But in 2023, Albert is just 6-16 at tour level.

Wawrinka has dominated their history 7-0, but they haven’t played since they met in the quarters of this tournament in 2016.  Can Stan recapture some of the magic he’s displayed in the past at this event?  On Monday, he’s the favorite to advance against a tough clay court opponent.


Elina Svitolina vs. Martina Trevisan (26) – Third on Court Simonne-Mathieu

On Saturday, in just her third WTA tournament since becoming a mother for the first time, Svitolina became the champion in Strasbourg.  Elina is 22-9 at Roland Garros, having reached the quarterfinals three times. 

Trevisan equaled that result back in 2020, then she surpassed it a year ago, reaching the semifinals of this event.  Yet in 2023, Martina is only 11-13 overall, and 4-4 on clay.

In their first career meeting, Trevisan should be favored.  This will be a quick turnaround for Svitolina from Strasbourg, and she is not yet re-accustomed to playing so many matches within a short time span.


Dominic Thiem vs. Pedro Cachin – Third on Court 6

Between 2016 and 2020, Thiem reached two finals, two more semifinals, and another quarterfinal in Paris.  But since a serious wrist injury sidelined him in 2021, Dominic is 0-2 at this event.  The Austrian is 11-15 this season at all levels, and is coming off two Challenger events on clay earlier this month.

Cachin is a 28-year-old from Argentina who reached the final of a Challenger event on clay in April, before advancing to the round of 16 at the Madrid Masters thanks to impressive victories over Francisco Cerundolo and Frances Tiafoe.  Pedro advanced to the second round of this event in his French Open main draw debut a year ago.

They have never played at tour level, but they did meet at a Challenger tournament last year on clay, with Cachin prevailing in straight sets.  However, it’s worth noting that was Thiem’s first event in nearly a year after returning from injury.  On Monday, I expect the two-time finalist to rediscover enough of his form to prevail.


Other Notable Matches on Monday:

Karolina Pliskova (16) vs. Sloane Stephens – This is a matchup between two players who have each achieved two Major finals, with Stephens winning the 2017 US Open, yet neither arrives in Paris with much form.  Pliskova got off to a strong start on the year, but is just 2-2 on clay, and has been dealing with a knee injury.  Sloane is 9-11 at tour level, though she is coming off a semifinal run this past week in Rabat.  Stephens leads their head-to-head 4-1, which includes a straight-set win at this event in 2021.

Novak Djokovic (3) vs. Aleksandar Kovacevic – Djokovic is a two-time champion of this tournament, and is 85-16 here lifetime.  He’s reached at least the quarterfinals for 13 straight years, though he’s been battling an elbow injury, and is just 5-3 on clay this season.  Kovacevic is a 24-year-old American who has never been ranked inside the top 100.

Carlos Alcaraz (1) vs. Flavio Cobolli (Q) – Alcaraz is an excellent 30-3 this year, and won back-to-back titles on clay in his home country before suffering a shocking loss to qualifier Fabian Marozsan in Rome.  This will be Carlitos’ first match at a Major since winning last year’s US Open, as he missed the Australian due to injury.  Cobolli is a 21-year-old Italian qualifier making his main draw debut at a Slam.

Arthur Fils (WC) vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (29) – Fils is an 18-year-old French standout who on Saturday won his first ATP title in his home country, defeating Francisco Cerundolo in the final of Lyon.  Davidovich Fokina is just 17-13 on the year, but was a quarterfinalist here two years ago. 


Monday’s full Order of Play is here.

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Aryna Sabalenka Powers Through French Open Opener

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World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka kicked off her French Open bid with a dominant win over Marta Kostyuk in the first round on Sunday.

 

Sabalenka, who is yet to reach the second week of Roland Garros in her career, overcame an early setback en route to a 6-3, 6-1, victory. The win is her 30th of the season which is more than anybody else on the WTA Tour. Against Kostyuk, Sabalenka fired a total of 18 winners and converted four out of nine break point opportunities. It is the second time she has beaten the Ukrainian after their inaugural meeting at the 2022 Dubai Tennis Championships. 

“I always thought that my first Grand Slam (title) would be at the French Open. I have no idea why because I couldn’t play on the clay but it was on my mind,” the reigning Australian Open champion said during her on-court interview.
“It’s another goal and I am doing everything that I can to bring my best tennis to the court every time.”

It had been widely expected that the match would be a tense encounter given the current political climate. Sabalenak’s country is accused of supporting Russia in its war against Ukraine which is where Kostyuk is from. On Friday the world No.2 said she didn’t expect a handshake to be taking place at the net and has called for politics to be kept outside of sport. A stance that has been criticized by her opponent. 

“Sabalenka might become number one in such a popular sport. Having such a large platform and such a large influence in the world, she refuses it. What kind of message is this for the world?” Kostyuk told BTU 24 hours before their match. 
“We are talking about people being murdered and as a response, we hear that we should leave sport outside of politics. But war does not choose whether you are an athlete or not when it comes to your home.”

However, on Court Philippe Chatrier there was little friction between the two. 20-year-old Kostyuk came into this year’s French Open with a dismal 0-13 record against top-10 opposition on the Tour. However, she was the first to strike in her clash with second seed Sabalenka. After saving two break points during the fourth game, she broke for a 3-2 lead with the help of a delicate drop shot followed by two consecutive errors from her opponent. 

Sabalenka responded instantly by increasing the intensity of her shot-making to once again establish her dominance. A four-game winning streak from the Belarussian enabled her to close out the opening set despite her blip. She secured the 6-3 lead with a clean backhand winner.  

In cruise control, the power of the 25-year-old continued to overwhelm her opponent throughout the second frame. In less than 20 minutes she broke Kostyuk two more times en route to a 4-1 lead. Serving for a place in the second round, Sabalenka battled back from 15-40 down before prevailing on her first match point after hitting a blistering forehand winner.

As expected, Kostyuk refused to shake hands with Sabalenka afterwards and ended up being booed off the court.

“It was a very tough match. It was tough emotionally. At first, I felt that this (the crowd booing) was against me so I was a little surprised but then I felt their support. It’s really important,” said Sabalenka.

It is the 11th time in a row that Sabalenka has won her opening match at a Grand Slam tournament. Besides competing for the trophy, she could also snatch Iga Swiatek’s No.1 ranking and will achieve the milestone if the Pole fails to reach the quarter-finals. 

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It’s A Big French Open For Charleston Tennis Fans

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Shelby Rogers hits a forehand during a Women's Singles match at the 2021 US Open, Monday, Sep. 6, 2021 in Flushing, NY. (Darren Carroll/USTA)

Little Charleston, S.C., is playing a major role at the French Open this year.

 

Two long-time Charleston residents are in the women’s main draw of the year’s second Grand Slam tournament. Shelby Rogers is actually a native of the area, and Emma Navarro has been around since her early years and attended school in Charleston.

ROGERS IS A SEED THIS TIME

Rogers is a seed for the first time in a major, coming in as the No. 32nd seed. She is 30 years old and ranked No. 34 in the world, her highest ranking as a pro.

Rogers has a little of a bad draw, having to go against 38th-ranked Petric Martic of Croatia in the first round.

Navarro is something of a surprise with a red-hot streak leading up to Paris. The 22-year-old former NCAA champion at the University of Virginia was ranked in the 130s going into March, but was awarded a USTA French Open wild card.

NAVARRO NOW 75TH IN WORLD

As a result of her recent success, Navarro has lifted her current world ranking to No. 75 in the world.

Navarro was a quarterfinalist at the current $259K WTA Strasbourg tournament, losing to Russian Anna Blinkova. She will face another Russian,  55th-ranked Anna Kalinskaya, in the first round in Paris.

Navarro also was a quarterfinalist in the $115K De Saint Malo French event earlier in the month.

Navarro won the $60K ITF event in Charlottesville, Va., before leaving the U.S. That was just a week after winning a $100K ITF in Charleston, S.C.

MORE CHARLESTON CONNECTIONS

Of course, word leaked out in 2020 that Pittsburgh product Alison Riske and her husband Stephen Amritraj had purchased a house in downtown Charleston. Navarro resides in downtown Charleston.

Riske-Amritraj also is in the main draw of this French Open. She is currently ranked 85th in the world and will face 16-year-old Russian qualifier Mirra Andreeva in the first round of the French Open.

Riske has another Charleston link in that she won the Junior Family Circle Cup way back in 2010. In the process, she earned a wild card into qualifying for the then Family Circle Cup. The event is now known as Credit One Charleston Open, owned by Emma Navarro’s father Ben Navarro.

A bunch of other players in the French Open main draw have connections to Charleston, Including top-ranked Iga Swiatek, through their success in Charleston ITF or WTA Tour events.

It certainly looks like this will be a big French Open for Charleston tennis fans.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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