Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep has been accused of a second doping offense by the International Tennis Integrity Agency for irregularities in her Athlete Biological Passport.
The charge “is separate and in addition to” the provisional suspension Halep received last year after failing a drug test during the U.S. Open in August, the ITIA said.
Halep is a 31-year-old from Romania who reached No. 1 in the WTA rankings in 2017. She won Wimbledon in 2019, beating 23-time major champion Serena Williams in the final, a year after winning the French Open.
The ITIA said the new charge “was based on an assessment” of Halep’s biological passport profile by an expert panel. Such passports provide a baseline reading of substances in an athlete’s body and are considered a way to help chart doping.
“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,” Nicole Sapstead, the group’s senior director for anti-doping, said in a statement.
In a social media post, Halep wrote that she has “lived the worst nightmare I have ever gone through in my life” since being initially charged by the ITIA.
She continued, saying her “name has been soiled in the worst possible way” and that the ITIA is determined “to prove my guilt while I haven’t EVER even thought of taking any illicit substance.”
Halep’s post says she was a “victim of contamination” and always has “been totally against any sort of cheating.”
“I look forward to finally being able to present my case at my hearing that is scheduled at the end of May,” she said.
Halep is the most prominent tennis player to face a doping ban since five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova tested positive for a newly banned substance at the 2016 Australian Open. Sharapova initially was given a two-year suspension but appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced the penalty, ruling she bore “less than significant fault” in the case and could not “be considered to be an intentional doper.”
Before her provisional suspension was made public, Halep announced in September she was taking the rest of last season off after having nose surgery to improve her breathing. She had considered retiring earlier in 2022 after a series of injuries, but then said she felt rejuvenated after teaming up with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who used to work with Williams.
Seeded No. 7 at the U.S. Open, Halep lost in the first round to Daria Snigur of Ukraine on Aug. 30. It was the first tour-level win of Snigur’s career.
The ITIA said Halep tested positive in New York for the banned substance Roxadustat, a drug approved for medical use in the European Union to treat the symptoms of anemia caused by chronic kidney failure.
According to the EU’s medicines agency, which approved Roxadustat last year, it stimulates the body to produce more of the natural hormone erythropoietin, or EPO, which has long been a doping product favored by cyclists and distance runners.
During a provisional suspension, a tennis player is ineligible to compete in, or attend, any sanctioned events.