'Bulls**t' - Expert Involved In Simona Halep's Anti-Doping Case Blasts Four-Year Ban - UBITENNIS
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‘Bulls**t’ – Expert Involved In Simona Halep’s Anti-Doping Case Blasts Four-Year Ban

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SIMONA HALEP OF ROMANIA - PHOTO: MATEO VILLALBA / MMO WTA SIMONA HALEP OF ROMANIA

A figure in Simona Halep’s doping investigation claims that he has clear evidence that she has been a victim of contamination and has blasted the decision to ban her for four years. 

On Tuesday the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) published its decision following a lengthy investigation that has included roughly 8000 pages of scientific and other evidence from both the player and ITIA. Halep tested positive for roxadustat during the 2022 US Open. An anti-anemia drug that is used to stimulate the production of red blood cells. She was also later found to have irregularities in her biological passport based on an analysis of 51 blood samples. Subsequently, an independent panel has found her guilty of violating two anti-doping rules which have resulted in her being suspended from the sport until 2026.

Jean-Claude Alvarez has been involved in Halep’s anti-doping case after being contacted by the former world No.1. He currently works as the director of the toxicology laboratory at Garches University Hospital in France and stands by the tennis player’s claim that she is innocent.

“We think we’re dreaming. Here, we are in the process of condemning an innocent person,” Alvarez told L’Equipe.
“The concentration in her hair, it is not possible that she takes roxadustat effectively. Roxadustat is a molecule that almost does not exist in Europe, it does not exist in the United States and it is contaminated twice according to the ITIA.”

According to Alvarez, Halep got contaminated with roxadustat after using a collagen powder that contained the substance. He says the ingredients in that product came from China where the substance is ‘very common.’ It is not known if Halep or a member of her team made efforts to check that the powder was fine to use under anti-doping regulations. 

“The roxadustat level is 0.2 nanograms per millilitre (in urine) for Simona Halep. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. You may have them if you take dietary supplements. It is bullshit,” he argues.
“We have identified the source. It’s collagen (powder to mix with water for physical pain), and there is roxadustat in it. Its collagen is made with ingredients that come from China. In China, roxadustat is very common.’
“The source of the contamination is very clear. There is a patient treated in France with roxadustat, I took a hair sample from this lady. I have over 100 times more concentration in this lady’s hair than Simona’s. We are experiencing a real scandal from WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency).”

As for the procedure used to detect the powder, Halep provided a list of everything she had taken leading to the check-up. The powder tested positive for the substance 14 out of 14 times. However, when this was sent to a WADA laboratory nothing was found. No contamination was also discovered by Pascal Kintz who works at a toxicology laboratory in Strasbourg. However, Kintz later found traces of roxdustat in the powder after using Alvarez’s method instead of his own. It is unclear as to how these methods are different. 

In their findings, the ITIA accepted Halep’s explanation that she had taken a contaminated product but concluded that the volume she ingested couldn’t have resulted in the concentration of roxadustat found in her positive sample. Alvarez counters this argument by claiming he did his own experiment on a colleague that used the powder for six days. During this time, seven out of 35 samples taken from this person produced a positive test. 

Alvarez was one of four ‘expert witnesses’ Halep used in her case. The other three were Professor Coquerel, Professor Kintz and Paul Scott. 

Halep is set to launch an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) against her ban. 

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Karolina Pliskova Finding Her Footing With The Help Of New Coach Krajan

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Karolina Pliskova (CZE) playing against Aryna Sabalenka (BLR) in the semi-final of the Ladies' Singles on Centre Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 10 Thursday 08/07/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Karolina Pliskova’s resurgence on the Tour comes at a time when she has formed a new partnership with a well-known coach. 

After her first round loss at the Australian Open to Elena Rybakina, the Czech won nine consecutive matches on the Tour. In Romania, she claimed her 17th WTA title at the Winners Open before reaching the semi-finals of a WTA 1000 event in Doha. However, she was unable to play her semi-final clash against Iga Swiatek due to a lower back injury. During this period she has improved her ranking from 77th to 36th. 

Pliskova began the season without a coach at her side but is now working with Croatia’s Zeljko Krajan. A partnership she believes is showing promising signs already. 

“Personality-wise, I think he’s kind of similar to me,” Pliskova told WTA Insider. “Not really high or low. Relaxed and very like calm. 
“We didn’t really plan yet anything because now the schedule was difficult. I might be in qualifying in Indian Wells. Maybe I enter San Diego. So I don’t really know what’s gonna be. I’m just living day by day at the moment.” 

Krajan has worked with a series of players on both the WTA and ATP Tour’s. He guided Dinara Safina to three Grand Slam finals between 2008 and 2010. He has also worked with Borna Coric, Laura Robson, Marcos Baghdatis, Jelena Jankovic and Dominika cibulkova.

Pliskova, who is a former world No.1 and two-time Grand Slam finalist, has endured a roller-coaster journey on the Tour in recent months with mixed results. Last season she failed to win back-to-back matches at 11 consecutive tournaments. 

So how has she managed to regain her form on the Tour?

“Motivation was never really a problem for me,” Pliskova said. “If I go on the court no matter how bad or good I feel, I always want to win. I always want to compete. 
“But my game is based on confidence and I need to feel that. Even if I’m not playing well or winning many matches, I just need to find that confidence in that moment or in that game because it’s just so risky. My shots are so flat, so I go for mostly lines. If something is not going well or you start to doubt, then of course you miss a little bit. Everything is about this.”

Unseeded at this week’s Dubai Tennis Championships, Pliskova beat China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round. She will next play Ashlyn Krueger in the second round on Tuesday.

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Elena Rybakina Eases Past Kasatkina To Win Abu Dhabi Open

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Elena Rybakina has captured her second title of the season after beating an erratic Daria Kasatkina in straight sets at the Abu Dhabi Open. 

The world No.5 stormed to a 6-1, 6-4, win over the Russian in just over an hour. It is the third time in Rybakina’s career that she has beaten Kasatkina on the Tour and she now leads their head-to-head 3-2. The triumph comes a month after she won the Brisbane International, which is also a WTA 500 event. 

Rybakina’s latest match saw her capitalise on her opponent’s costly mistakes. Kasatkina struggled with her serve throughout the majority of the final and only managed to hold twice in eight attempts. Opening the door for the former Wimbledon champion who hit 17 winners against 12 unforced errors en route to victory. 

“I want to thank the fans who came this week,” said the new champion. “It has been an amazing atmosphere, especially to see flags from Kazakhstan. It means a lot, thank you so much.”

A one-sided 25-minute opening set saw Rybakina claim four straight games to clinch an early lead. During to the opener, Kasatkina only managed to win 26% of her service points. It was the fourth time in the tournament that the Kazakh had won a set by conceding two or fewer games. 

Fortunately for world No.14 Kasatkina and the crowd, there was more of a battle in the second frame. Twice in a row Rybakina worked her way to a break advantage before losing it in the following game. Then at 4-4, she dealt the decisive blow by hitting a clean forehand winner to break yet against and this time had a chance to serve for the title. With the rain starting to fall, she converted her first championship point with the help of another error from across the net. 

The defeat for Kasatkina comes a day after she came through a marathon three-hour semi-final match before criticising the WTA over their tournament scheduling. She is currently set to play in the Qatar Open with her opening match taking place tomorrow. It is the sixth time in a row she has been beaten by a top-five player on the Tour. 

“Congratulations to Elena, you’ve had a great week,” she said.
“Thanks to my team who has always been next to me. I am really proud of the job we’ve done and how we are doing. Thanks for always believing in me.”

Rybakina also referred to the demanding calendar during the trophy presentation. 

“Tough week (for Kasatkina), especially the last matches. Tomorrow there is already a match in Doha but hopefully, we will both recover and do well there. Maybe also play (against each other) in the final there,” she said. 

Unlike Kasatkina, Rybakina has a first round bye in Doha. She has now won seven WTA trophies so far in her career. 

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Ons Jabeur Hoping For Better Fortunes In Doha Despite Injury Concerns

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Ons Jabeur (TUN) playing against Venus Williams (USA) on No.1 Court at The Championships 2021. Credit: AELTC/Jon Super

Ons Jabeur is optimistic that she will be ready in time to play at her next event in Doha after suffering an emotional exit from Dubai on Friday. 

The two-time Wimbledon finalist was in tears during her straight sets loss to Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarter-finals. Jabeur later revealed that her emotional reaction was linked to the reoccurrence of a knee injury in recent days which has troubled her in the past. She said the pain can differ at various tournaments but in Dubai, it was causing her significant discomfort. 

“I’m an open book, an emotional person. I like to show myself. One thing I have learned is to accept the emotion, and if I try to hide it, it will not make me feel good,” Jabeur told reporters in Doha at a pre-tournament press conference. 
“So it’s good to let it out and be done with it than to keep it inside and probably will make more problems for you later.”

Despite the setback, the world No.6 intends to play at the Doha Open which gets underway today. She will be the fourth seed in this year’s draw and will be playing in the event for the first time since 2022. Last year she was forced to skip the Middle East swing after having surgery to treat an enlarged nodule which was obstructing her airway and preventing oxygen from reaching her lungs. 

“I’m very happy to be back. I’m obviously happier than last year,” she said. “I’m glad to be united with my fans here, and hopefully it’s going be a great week for me.
“I have been struggling with the knee for a long time, and last week was very, very tough. Hopefully, I can recover in time and then play better here in Doha.”  

This time of the year has always meant a lot to the Tunisian, who has spoken on numerous occasions about her aim to inspire more players from her region to take up tennis. She is the first Arab player to reach a Grand Slam final, crack the top 10 in the WTA rankings and qualify for the season-ending Tour Finals. 

“It is very important to be here to connect with Arabic crowds. I feel so much love here in the region, and obviously, that’s one of the reasons I chose to play Abu Dhabi, Doha, and Dubai, because I feel so good here.” She said.

Declaring she is ‘happy’ with her rhythm on the court, Jabeur will begin her campaign in Doha against either Lesia Tsurenko or Turkish wild card Zeynep Sonmez.

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