Simona Halep was in a bad situation, and it just got much worse.
The former world No. 1, who has been provisionally suspended since October after allegedly testing positive for a banned substance last year, is being charged with a second and separate doping charge by the International Tennis Integrity Agency, the organization announced Friday.
At issue are "irregularities" in Halep's biological passport, an electronic system of markers used to monitor athletes' blood that goes beyond the usual tests for drugs. As tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg noted, the practice is mostly used to look for blood doping.
The ITIA said Halep's biological passport contained sufficient evidence of another doping charge after she allegedly tested positive for Roxadustat in an August 2022 test.
ITIA senior director for anti-doping Nicole Sapstead was quoted as saying that this development complicates an already sensitive situation:
“We understand that today’s announcement adds complexity to an already high-profile situation. From the outset of this process – and indeed any other at the ITIA – we have remained committed to engaging with Ms. Halep in an empathetic, efficient, and timely manner.
“We do, of course, appreciate there is a great deal of media interest in these cases. It would be inappropriate for us to comment on specifics until the conclusion of the process, but we will continue to engage with the Sport Resolutions independent tribunal and Ms. Halep’s representatives as expeditiously as possible.”
Soon after the charge was announced, Halep released a lengthy statement accusing the ITIA of harassment and claiming that her sample that tested positive for Roxadustat had been established as a contaminated sample. In light of what the ITIA said about her biological passport, Halep said three experts had studied her blood and found it to be normal.
The full statement can be read below.
A two-time Grand Slam champion, with wins at the 2018 French Open and 2019 Wimbledon, the 31-year-old Halep last played at the 2022 US Open, where she was shocked in the first round by qualifier Daria Snigur. She posted her best result in two years at the previous Grand Slam, with a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon, in which she lost to eventual champion Elena Rybakina.
Simona Halep's full statement on second doping charge
Since October 7, when I got charged by the ITIA for a suspicion of doping, I have lived the worst nightmare I have ever gone through in my life.
Not only has my name been soiled in the worst possible way, but am facing a constant determination from the ITIA for a reason that I cannot understand, to prove my guilt while I haven't EVER even thought of taking any illicit substance.
I tried two times to have the opportunity to be judged by an Independent Tribunal and the ITIA has constantly found reasons to postpone.
Now that we have clearly established that I have been victim of a contamination, they came up with a so-called not normal evolution of my blood. Three world renowned experts that have studied my blood tests have been extremely clear that my blood is totally normal.
I feel helpless facing such harassment and a motivation on their behalf to prove me guilty of something I never did. Once again, all my life I have been totally against any sort of cheating.
It doesn't align with my values.
The only thing I hope for, at this point, is to have the possibility to finally access the independent and impartial judges in a Tribunal, that will give me the chance to prove my innocence.
I have full trust in justice and I look forward to finally being able to present my case at my hearing that is scheduled at the end of May, after several delays by the ITIA.
The support of my loved ones, the tennis world and my fans have given me the courage to continue to practice every day and fight for the truth.
I cannot thank you more for that.