Simona Halep: Why was her ban reduced and when can she return to tennis?

Romanian former world No 1 has her suspension reduced from four years to nine months by CAS

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Simona Halep, the former world No 1 and two-time Grand Slam champion, has had her four-year doping ban reduced to nine months after a successful appeal process with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

It brings to an end a saga that left Halep's tennis career hanging by a thread. She was suspended in October 2022 after testing positive for roxadustat – a banned substance that stimulates the production of red blood cells – at the US Open that year.

In addition to the failed drug test, which carried a two-year suspension, Halep was charged with another doping offence last year due to irregularities in her athlete biological passport (ABP), a method designed to monitor different blood parameters over time to reveal potential doping. That added another two years to her ban.

Halep, 32, conceded last year that if the four-year ban was upheld, it would mean the end of her career. With the suspension now reduced, she can plot her return to the tour.

Here is everything we know about Halep's case and what's next for the Romanian.

What was Halep banned for?

In October 2022, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) confirmed Halep tested positive for roxadustat during the US Open in August that year. Roxadustat is a substance that stimulates the production of red blood cells and is used to treat anaemia and kidney problems.

Having been provisionally suspended for almost one year for the failed drug test, Halep was hit with another suspension in September 2023 after being charged with irregularities in her ABP.

Following a review by an independent tribunal, which upheld both decisions from the ITIA, the action was taken to suspend Halep from tennis until 2026.

Halep immediately announced she would begin the appeal process, saying in a statement: “I take the rules that govern our sport very seriously and take pride in the fact I have never knowingly or intentionally used any prohibited substance. I refused to accept their decision of a four-year ban.”

How did Halep get the ban reduced?

On Sunday evening, it was announced that Halep's four-year ban had been reduced to nine months following the CAS ruling.

The former French Open and Wimbledon champion launched her appeal to CAS in February, arguing that the positive test was the result of a "contaminated product" and anomalies in her biological passport could be linked to surgery she had undergone.

The court ultimately sided with Halep that she did not intentionally take the banned substance, and therefore reduced her suspension.

"The CAS Panel has unanimously determined that the four-year period of ineligibility imposed by the ITF Independent Tribunal is to be reduced to a period of ineligibility of nine months starting on 7 October 2022, which period expired on 6 July 2023," CAS said in a statement Tuesday.

"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 29 August 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."

Additionally, CAS completely dismissed the second charge of the two-year ban pertaining to irregularities in Halep's ABP – a decision completely at odds with the ITIA's original charge and punishment.

How did Halep react to the ban reduction?

Halep released a statement on social media following the ruling to share her relief at being found innocent of intentional doping. "

In the midst of this challenging journey, my unwavering belief in the integrity of the truth and in the principles of justice has been my beacon," she wrote. "Despite facing daunting accusations and formidable opposition, my spirit remained buoyant, anchored in my unwavering conviction of being a clean athlete.

"This ordeal has been a testament to resilience, and the triumph of truth is a bittersweet vindication that, albeit delayed, is immensely gratifying."

When can Halep return to tennis?

Halep is free to return to professional tennis immediately. As per the CAS ruling, her suspension ended in July last year, so she can theoretically be back in action imminently.

What will Halep's ranking be?

When Halep does return to the WTA Tour, she will do so unranked. While her suspension was significantly reduced after she was found not guilty of intentional doping, she still failed a drug test and therefore surrendered her ranking points.

As per the IATA website, "when a player regains their eligibility [from a doping suspension], they must start competing at the bottom of the professional game".

Halep, who was ranked world No 9 when she was provisionally suspended in 2022, will need to rely on wildcards and invitations to compete in the WTA Tour's top-tier events, until her ranking returns to a high enough level for automatic entries.

How will Halep fare on her return?

A question that can only be answered when she does, in fact, return to the tour. Halep has not played competitively since a first-round defeat at the US Open in August 2022, meaning she has been absent for more than 18 months.

At the age of 32, it's not too late to revive her career but it will take time for her to get back to a level that will make her competitive at the top end of the women's game.

Maria Sharapova, the five-time Grand Slam champion, went through a similar process when she was handed a two-year suspension in 2016 after testing positive for meldonium. The Russian had her ban reduced from 24 to 15 months but was never quite the same player when she returned.

Updated: March 06, 2024, 11:13 AM