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Simona Halep Cleared to Return to Action; The Pre-Wimbledon Women’s Event

Former Wimbledon champion Simona Halep has been cleared to return to action after her doping ban was reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)

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Former Wimbledon champion Simona Halep has been cleared to return to action after her doping ban was reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from four years to nine months on appeal. The 32-year-old Romanian star who previously feared her career was over, would be back to action as soon as possible, having already served a provisional suspension since October 2022, as the nine-month ban expired on July 6, 2023.

The former world No1 was originally banned until October 2026 for a doping offense by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) for “intentional” doping offenses. She tested positive for roxadustat (an anti-anemia drug that stimulates the production of red blood cells in the body) after the US Open in August 2022 from a sample taken during the tournament. Since then, the Romanian player, who secured victories at the 2018 French Open and Wimbledon in 2019, has not participated in any competitive matches.

In May 2023, she was handed a second charge by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) for irregularities in her athlete biological passport (ABP). A report instigated by the ITIA ruled Halep had “intentionally” doped and handed out a four-year ban. Halep is the highest-profile tennis player since Maria Sharapova to have failed a drugs test. 

Halep appealed against the decision, and on Tuesday, it was disclosed that her case had been partially upheld, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruling that Halep “on the balance of probabilities” had not intentionally taken roxadustat. 

A statement from the CAS panel said: 

“Having carefully considered all the evidence put before it, the CAS panel determined that Ms. Halep had established, on the balance of probabilities, that the Roxadustat entered her body through the consumption of a contaminated supplement which she had used in the days shortly before August 29, 2022, and that the Roxadustat, as detected in her sample, came from that contaminated product. 

As a result, the CAS Panel determined that Ms. Halep had also established, on the balance of probabilities, that her anti-doping rule violations were not intentional. Although the CAS Panel found that Ms. Halep did bear some level of fault or negligence for her violations, as she did not exercise sufficient care when using the Keto MCT supplement, it concluded that she bore no significant fault or negligence.” 

CAS also dismissed the biological passport findings, saying: 

“Contrary to the reasoning of the first instance tribunal, the CAS panel determined that it was appropriate in the circumstances to consider the results of a private blood sample given by Ms. Halep on September 9, 2022, in the context of a surgery which occurred shortly thereafter. Those results, and Ms. Halep’s public statements that she did not intend to compete for the remainder of the 2022 c.alendar year, impacted the plausibility of the doping scenarios relied upon by the International Tennis Federation independent tribunal. Having regard to the evidence as a whole, the CAS panel was not comfortably satisfied that an anti-doping rule violation had occurred. It therefore dismissed that charge.”

The International Tennis Integrity Agency, responsible for overseeing tennis’ anti-doping program, had also appealed, aiming for a more extended ban. However, the ruling went in favor of Halep. They were also ordered to pay Halep around £18,000 as a contribution to her legal fees and expenses.

Additionally, the court mandated that “all results achieved by Halep in competitions held between August 29, 2022, and October 7, 2022, are disqualified, with all associated repercussions, such as forfeiture of any medals, titles, ranking points, and prize money.” 

In a statement, Halep expressed gratitude for the support she received during a challenging process, maintaining belief in her innocence and the fairness of the outcome. She thanked her legal team for their unwavering support and her sponsors, fans, and fellow competitors for standing by her side. 

Taken to her Instagram, Helep said, “This ordeal has been a testament to resilience. The triumph of truth is a bittersweet vindication that, albeit delayed, is immensely gratifying.”

Halep eagerly anticipates returning to the court and competing once again. The 32-year-old would now focus on rebuilding her career. There is a possibility that she may receive a wild card entry to this year’s French Open or Wimbledon.

Plans to host a pre-Wimbledon event for women for the first time since 1973

The Queen’s Club will host a Pre-Wimbledon tournament for women for the first time since 1973 if the ongoing plans are approved. The Queen’s Club could host a WTA tournament a week after the completion of the French Open in June, utilizing grass courts that are to be used by the men in the following week.

The LTA and The All England Club have expressed enthusiasm to reintroduce a WTA event to London after its absence of over fifty years. The WTA needs to sanction the new tournament, which could begin in 2025. The sanctioning would replace Eastbourne as the UK’s sole WTA 500 event leading up to Wimbledon. Eastbourne is anticipated to retain its traditional pre-Wimbledon slot but might be downgraded to WTA 250 status, affecting both the ranking points and prize money.

Should all parties agree, the revised schedule will be included in the 2025 WTA calendar (to be published in April). The concept emerged after a comprehensive evaluation was conducted over a year. It aimed to explore new strategies to enhance the effectiveness of the grass-court season. The proposal to introduce a WTA event at The Queen’s Club is one of the outcomes to optimize the impact and appeal of tennis played on grass courts during the summer weeks leading up to Wimbledon.

“The LTA and the All England Club have been reviewing the grass court season with the intention of improving the experience for fans and players. We continue to discuss the future grass court calendar with the ATP and WTA, however, at the moment no final decisions have been taken.”, the LTA said in a statement. 

Margaret Court, Chris Evert, and Ann Jones were winners of the women’s title at Queen’s before it ended in 1973. The event’s return to Queens would surely boost the visibility and profile of the women’s game. Although the idea behind the event is wonderful, it would be challenging to attract top talents to feature in the event as most prefer not to enter a tournament in the week after a Grand Slam. For example, just five top-20 players played in the WTA tournaments in s-Hertogenbosch and Nottingham in the week after the French Open last year. Tickets will also be sold for a relatively lesser amount than those in the men’s competitions. The LTA would capitalize on the opportunity to increase its revenue given the number of stands and commercial partnerships that fall to the ATP tournament. 

The Queen’s Club’s courts will face unprecedented strain from these actions, although LTA and the All England Club research indicates that a week of women’s matches is gentler on the grass than men’s matches. How the playing field at Eastbourne, which hosted five of the world’s top 10 last year, will be affected by the downgrade to a WTA 250 event is still uncertain. 

While fewer ranking points will be at stake compared to that in the week’s other tournament in Bad Homburg, Germany, players may still opt to participate in the week before Wimbledon due to the shorter travel distance from the south coast of England to The All-England Club.

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