Caroline Wozniacki hits out at Simona Halep: ‘Dopers should not get wildcards’

Wozniacki and Halep on court together
Wozniacki has clearly been following Halep's case closely - REUTERS/EDGAR SU

Two former world No1s are at odds in Miami after Caroline Wozniacki suggested that players who test positive for banned substances should not be fast-tracked back into tournaments.

Wozniacki’s comments came shortly after Simona Halep had made her return from a doping suspension, losing in three sets to Spain’s Paula Badosa on her first competitive appearance for 18 months.

Wozniacki said that she was not trying to criticise Halep directly, but went on to explain that “if someone purposely cheats, if someone has tested positive for doping, it’s my personal belief that I don’t think people should be awarded wildcards afterwards. If you want to come back…you should work your way up from the bottom”.

Asked about Wozniacki’s views, Halep replied: “Why did she say that? I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t dope. So it’s better if we read the decision from CAS [the Court of Arbitration for Sport], that it was a contaminated supplement.”

Halep’s meeting with Badosa was her first appearance on the tour since August 2022, when traces of Roxadustat – a banned substance normally used to treat anaemia – were found in her urine sample.

After lengthy deliberations, the International Tennis Integrity Agency finally handed Halep a four-year ban in September 2023. An independent panel found her guilty of two charges: not only of having used Roxadustat, but also for showing irregularities in her biological passport.

In an interview at the end of last year, Halep – who is 32 – suggested that, unless the ban were overturned, she would be unlikely to return to tennis. But then, a fortnight ago, CAS came to her rescue.

The independent panel recruited by CAS saw the same evidence as the ITIA’s independent panel, but came to the radically different conclusion that Halep had ingested Roxadustat unintentionally via a contaminated nutritional supplement. Her sentence was thus reduced to nine months, which she had already served.

Halep remains unranked, as she has not appeared on the tour for so long, but organisers of the Miami Open handed her a wildcard invitation in any case. As it happens, Halep had previously criticised tournaments that did exactly this for Maria Sharapova in 2017, after Sharapova had served a ban for using a prohibited substance called Meldonium. “For the kids, for the young players, it is not OK to help with a wildcard the player that was banned for doping,” said Halep then.

On Tuesday, Wozniacki made sure to mention that “I’ve always liked Simona. We’ve always had a good relationship”. Indeed, the two women practised together as recently as last summer, according to Wozniacki’s brother Patrik.

While Wozniacki was heartfelt in her insistence that “I just hope for a clean sport … I want a fair fight”, there is perhaps some inconsistency in her use of the phrase “if someone purposely cheats”.

Wozniacki has clearly followed Halep’s case in some detail, saying “she got her suspension reduced, it wasn’t a clearance”. But the CAS verdict had clearly specified that, while there may have been negligence in Halep’s consumption of a rogue supplement, there was no intention to dope.

As far as Halep’s tennis is concerned, she played a strong first set against Badosa before tiring and going down to a 1-6, 6-4, 6-3 defeat. She called the trainer to the court in the second set to work on a sore right shoulder – an issue that may, in concert with her understandable rustiness, have contributed to a tally of ten double-faults.

Badosa will now go on to a second-round meeting with world No2 Aryna Sabalenka, who is still planning to play the Miami Open despite the tragic death of her boyfriend Konstantin Koltsov on Sunday night.

Badosa is Sabalenka’s closest friend and ally on the tennis tour, and she spoke movingly about the situation on Tuesday.

Wozniacki also commented on Sabalenka’s bereavement, saying: “I can’t even imagine what she’s going through right now. I’m saying that. I’m also tearing up. It’s such a terrible situation.

“I love Aryna,” Wozniacki added. “I think she’s such a great person. She’s always so happy and out there. To see her go through that, it’s heartbreaking. Everybody grieves in a different way. She was walking past today. I was giving her her space. I let her know that if she ever needs anything, I’m here, we’re here for her.”