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Simona Halep’s positive drug test for a banned substance sent shockwaves through the tennis world. Halep, a former world No. 1, says she didn’t do drugs and pledges to clear her name. Many tennis players side with her.
Halep, 31 years old, said friday that she felt “completely confused and betrayed” after being told she was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Integrity Agency, the anti-doping agency for tennis.
Here are four things to know about Halep and her case, including details and unanswered questions about the drug anti-doping authorities say was found in her system:
Halep is accused of taking Roxadustat
The ITIA says a drug control sample taken from Halep at the US Open in August tested positive for roxadustat, a banned performance-enhancing drug with similar effects to erythropoietin (EPO), the performance-enhancing drug the blood that has long been linked to professional cycling.
On social media, Halep said she was shocked to learn that the drug had been detected in her system. Insisting that she has never been tempted to cheat, she said: “I will fight to the end to prove that I have never knowingly taken a banned substance and have faith that sooner or later later, the truth will come out.”
Samples A and B taken from Halep tested positive for Roxadustat, according to the ITIA. He did not specify whether the samples were blood or urine; the agency uses both systems.
Halep, who holds the French Open and Wimbledon Grand Slam singles titles, said his fight was not driven by money or achievements, but by a sense of honor and love of the game. On the day she announced her positive test, she was ranked ninth in the world.
What does roxadustat do?
Roxadustat is a relatively new drug produced by FibroGen, a San Francisco biopharmaceutical company in partnership with AstraZeneca and Astellas. It is not approved in the United States; elsewhere, it is marketed as a tool for preventing anemia by stimulating the body’s production of red blood cells.
Roxadustat and similar drugs work by causing the body to “mimic the natural response to hypoxia or lack of oxygen,” as the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency said in 2016. At the time, the drug n was not yet approved in any country – China was the first to approve it in 2018 – but it was already found among international athletes.
The drug is primarily intended to help patients with kidney failure on dialysis or people undergoing chemotherapy. But it can be beneficial for athletes – if you increase red blood cells, you can also increase the amount of oxygen available to athletes, which helps their endurance.
Roxadustat is taken orally, while forms of EPO are commonly injected, making the new drug easier to use – and potentially harder for an unwitting athlete to realize they are taking a banned substance.
Unless Halep is able to overturn the finding or prove she did not intentionally use the drugs, she could face up to a four-year suspension, according to the ANAD. , the National Anti-Doping Agency of Romania.
Halep’s former coach and others come to his defense
Those defending Halep against the doping charge include her former coach, Australian Darren Cahill.
“Even though I no longer work with Simona, I would like to speak clearly to the person I know and the athlete I worked with for 6 years,” Cahill wrote in an Instagram post.
“First, and most importantly, there is NO chance that Simona knowingly or deliberately took any substance on the banned list,” he wrote. “None. Zero.”
Cahill said Halep was frequently tested for banned drugs and embraced the spirit of fair play. He described her as being vigilant against accidentally ingesting drugs or substances that could trigger a positive test.
“Honesty has always been her greatest strength and her greatest weakness,” Cahill said of Halep, who in the past has been candid when discussing the challenges of an athlete staying at the top of elite tennis – and his recent struggles in the game.
“I believe in her,” Cahill said. “I’ve always said and honestly can’t say anything more than right now on this particular issue. I’m with Simo.”
Cahill’s post was applauded by tennis pros-turned-commentators Barbara Schett-Eagle and Rennae Stubbs. A response also came from Patrick Mouratoglou, the famous former coach of Serena Williams who recently worked with Halep.
“Thank you Darren,” Mouratoglou wrote. “Anyone who knows Simona also knows that she did not deliberately take a banned substance.”
The Romanian Tennis Federation and its president, George Cosac, say they support Halep. The same goes for Romania’s Sports Minister Eduárd Novák, who cites the positive impact Halep has had by saying he will wait for clarification on his case.
Halep is one of the most successful players in history
Halep made her comeback this year, returning to the top 10 on the Women’s Tennis Association Tour in August. Before injuries and emotional exhaustion derailed her in the 2021 season, Halep had spent 373 weeks in the top 10 – a span of more than seven years.
In women’s tennis, only Serena and Venus Williams have won more prizes than Halep. She has earned over $40 million during her career, a milestone she reached earlier this year.
Among female and male players, Halep’s earnings placed her in eighth place overall for players with the most prize money, well above Andre Agassi and below Pete Sampras.
In September, Halep announcement she was wrapping up her 2022 season to undergo nasal surgery which she explained was intended to improve her breathing and also change the appearance of her nose. The ITIA says it sent Halep a notice of potential doping violation on Oct. 7.