Halep questions long delay for doping hearing

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LONDON — Former world No. 1 Simona Halep has called on tennis’ anti-doping organization to give her the chance to clear her name after she was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Integrity Agency in October.

In an interview with Tennis Majors, Halep’s first since learning of her failed drug test at the US Open, the Romanian player said she has so far been denied her right to be heard by an independent court.

“I didn’t want to get out and talk because it was very emotional,” Halep, who at the time described her failed test as the biggest shock of her life, told Tennis Majors. “Actually, I couldn’t handle it very well. But now I feel the need to speak out loud to my supporters, my fans and to the public because I am sure they really want to know why it’s taking so long and I really felt the need to do that.”

When Halep was tested during last year’s US Open, both her A and B samples confirmed the presence of banned blood-booster roxadustat, which stimulates the production of red blood cells much like the prohibited substance erythropoetin (EPO).

Halep, a former Wimbledon and French Open champion, has denied knowingly taking a banned substance and said she has evidence that proves low quantities of the anti-anemia drug entered her body from an authorized supplement that was contaminated.

She said she sent evidence about the contamination to the International Tennis Federation in December and hoped her case would be heard by an independent tribunal in February but that it was postponed and a new date in March was also pushed back.

“The ITF requested that the hearing on March 24 should be canceled,” Halep said. “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.”

The ITF said in a statement that anti-doping cases are not its responsibility and are handled by the ITIA, which was established by the sport’s international governing bodies to oversee integrity matters such as doping and corruption.

The ITIA said in a statement that the process was ongoing in line with the World Anti-Doping Code.

Halep said she has undertaken 10 tests since her positive result, with all of them coming back negative. She hopes to have a hearing in May but fears that may also be canceled.

“I believe that it’s not fair to spend eight months without even being judged by the tribunal. Emotionally, the whole period has not been easy,” the 31-year-old Halep said. “I’m not asking for special treatment. I just ask to be judged. How much longer is this going to take?”

Halep said she has taken heart from the support of the public and her coach Patrick Mouratoglou and is determined to come back and challenge for major titles again.

“It made me feel stronger to come back and work harder to get back to the level that I was at before and even higher,” she said. “Until now, this is the hardest battle I’ve faced in my life and career. I love this sport, and I want to play for the big titles again.”

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