Simona Halep was provisionally suspended from October 2022, after it was announced that she had tested positive for the banned substance roxadustat. In her first interview since her suspension, exclusively for Tennis Majors, the two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1 says she has evidence to prove her innocence, but has so far been denied the right to be heard by an independent court. She hopes her hearing will take place at the end of May.
Tennis Majors caught up with Simona Halep earlier this week, with the Romanian saying she was ready to provide an update on her situation more than six months after her suspension.
According to the cited source, all the facts that Simona Halep talks about in this interview have been verified by Tennis Majors. Her legal team was also able to confirm that Halep’s statement during our interview was correct.
The ITF said it was unable to comment, while the ITIA said it would not comment on a case while it is ongoing.
The full reproduction of the interview:
Simona, our first question is obvious. How are you?
Simona Halep: I don’t really know how I feel, because the situation was very difficult. From an emotional point of view, it’s hard. The stress is huge, because I never thought I would face something like this. I have always been against doping, because I am a big supporter of clean sport. So, at first, I didn’t know how to handle it. Over time I just tried to stay calm and I actually feel confident because I know I’m clean and I didn’t knowingly take anything illegal. That is: a bad substance. It makes me feel a little better, but I’m trying to do the best I can.
Why did you accept an interview today? I haven’t heard from you since your social media post in October 2022. Why are you willing to talk today?
Simona Halep: I wanted to remain silent until the case is resolved. I didn’t want to come out and talk because it was very emotional. And actually, like I said, I couldn’t do very well. But now I feel the need to speak out loud to my supporters, my fans and the public, because I’m sure they really want to know why it’s taking so long and I really felt the need to do that. That is why I am here today.
The case is not solved, as you just mentioned. Have you ever knowingly taken roxadustat or other banned substances?
Simona Halep: Knowingly, I did not take any prohibited substance. I am a big supporter of clean sport and I have always been against doping.
What was your reaction when you were tested positive?
Simona Halep: It was a shock. I didn’t know how to handle the situation. I didn’t know what roxadustat was. I had never heard of him before. I went on the internet a bit to find out something about him. I understand that it is a prohibited substance.
Do you have any idea how this substance could get into your body, could you understand why?
Simona Halep: I have always been careful to check all the ingredients in the supplements (that I take) to make sure that everything is authorized. At first I had no idea about the origin of this substance. And then I just wanted to ask the experts (whom I hired, [n.r.]) to explain to me how it happened and where it comes from. Like I said, I had never heard of it, so I didn’t know how I could possibly take it and, in fact, how it could be in my urine. After a lot of work, they found that there was a contamination, a supplement contamination, and that’s why the amount was so low in my body. A contamination is when someone takes a licensed supplement, but the company that sells it makes a mistake and there is a very small amount of a substance that shouldn’t be there. Experts worked hard to find the reason for this contamination and discovered that the supplement was contaminated with a very small amount of the substance.
Who are the experts you mention?
Simona Halep: I can’t reveal the names of the experts yet, but both are extremely experienced and each of them found, independently, that the supplement was contaminated with roxadustat.
ITF [federaţia internaţională de tenis, n.r.] do you agree with this?
Simona Halep: I sent the evidence to the ITF and they denied it. I submitted in December when I first worked on this case. The ITF refused the tests and we are still analyzing them. Since the ITF has denied, the only chance for this case to be resolved is for me to go to court to have my case heard and present all the evidence showing that my positive test was tainted
[Nota redacţiei: Când Simona Halep menţionează “tribunalul” de care cere să fie judecată, ea se referă la “comisia independentă” la care se face referire în articolul 8.2 din regulamentul antidoping pentru tenis publicat de ITIA, responsabil de programul antidoping al ITF].
I sent all the results in December to the ITF to prove that there was contamination in my sample, but they denied it. I looked for her every day. I had high hopes that I could go to court to have a hearing and then I would know if I could play in Indian Wells or not. (A) hearing on 28 February did not take place as the ITF requested more time to do additional testing.
The hearing was adjourned until March 24. The ITF requested that the March 24 hearing be cancelled. I disagreed with this because, as the rules say, a provisionally suspended player is entitled to an expedited hearing. Everything takes so long. I asked the ITF to lift my sanction to be able to play, but they also refused.
Have you been tested since you tested positive? What were the results of these tests?
Simona Halep: I was notified in October that my urine test from August was positive. Since then, I’ve done 10 tests in a row and they were all negative, and it was blood and urine at the same time.
What is the next step?
Simona Halep: The next step is a hearing at the end of May, on the 28th, but it is very fragile, because the ITF said it could cancel this one as well. If they do that, it will be almost eight months since I was provisionally suspended for the first time, and I think it is not fair that I should spend eight months without even being tried by the Tribunal.
Emotionally, the whole period was not easy and I felt the need to speak out loud to my fans, my supporters and in fact the whole public. I’m sure they really want to know what’s going on and why it’s taking so long. I wanted to keep quiet until the case was solved, but it’s too hard, so I felt it would be very good for me to talk about it out loud.
Why did your case take so long?
Simona Halep: Seven months have passed since I was initially suspended, even though I had all the evidence since December. I’m not asking for special treatment. I only ask to be judged. How long will it last?
How did you react when you heard that a large number of people, obviously higher than usual in these cases, said they didn’t think you could have taken a banned substance?
Simona Halep: I felt the support of the people, of my fans, actually of everyone. I feel like they don’t think I knowingly took something forbidden. It made me feel stronger to come back and work harder to get back to the level I was at before, and even higher. I am working on it. I really want to return to tennis and play at the highest level. They really (understood) my personality and my way of being.
It makes me very happy and gives me strength to fight for the truth and return to tennis. So far, this is the hardest battle I have faced in my life and career. I received the letter from the ITF informing me that I had tested positive for an extremely low amount of roxadustat. The first thing I did was send a message to Patrick (Mouratoglou), my coach [cofondator al Tennis Majors], to ask him if I understood correctly that my urine test was positive. From this moment on, I could count on his help. Because he was with me every step of the way, I was able to learn the truth.
How do you see your future in tennis, if the case will be resolved in a way that allows you to return to the circuit?
Simona Halep: I really want to play again because I love this sport and I want to play again for the big titles. I’ve worked my whole life for this. I continued to play (during the suspension) because I had hope that the case would be resolved. I had many delays. It wasn’t easy to stay focused, but I did the best I could and stayed focused on working and training as much as possible.
Until now, tennis has always been my life. I feel like I want to do it again when I go back. I want to be as strong as before, even more if possible. I’m working for it and I know I’m going to fight because it’s going to be almost eight months without playing an official match and all the pressure that’s been around this case. I strongly believe that if I work hard, I can play at the highest level again.
Are you counting the days or trying to avoid them?
Simona Halep: At this age (31 years old), it is very difficult to lose days, weeks and months. You are afraid of injuries. When you don’t have official matches, it’s more risky. When time goes by like that, it’s harder to come back (no: Halep is now world number 26 and was in the top 10 when she was provisionally suspended).
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