Simona Halep’s suspension reduced, coming back next week — BNP Paribas Open continues

The IX: Tennis Tuesday with Joey Dillon, March 12, 2024

Howdy, y’all, and Happy Tennis Tuesday! If you’ve been a loyal subscriber, you know that I often joke that the biggest news of the week always comes right after Tennis Tuesday. This past week was no exception with the announcement that former World No. 1 Simona Halep is free to play on tour again after the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s three-judge panel unanimously reduced her four-year doping ban to just nine months. Keep in mind, the Romanian has been on a provisional suspension from the International Tennis Integrity Association since October 2022 after not only testing positive for roxadustat and having irregularities in her Athlete Biological Passport, so “technically” she served a lot more than she ended up being sentenced. She will come back to competition next week at the Miami Open after receiving a main draw wildcard.

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Because of the evidence in the ITIA’s original case, I was surprised that CAS reduced her sentence by almost 80%. CAS took out ITIA’s argument of Halep’s ABP — something the ITIA wanted a second four-year ban for — because the levels shown were not long after a surgery she had. CAS determined that the likelihood that the supplement coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s team supplied was the cause of the banned ingredient was probable, though the ITIA’s testimony detailed how the amount shown up in her system could not have come from just a tainted supplement. CAS determined the nine months because while there was no “intent” to dope, she does bear some negligence for putting the supplement in her body.

Halep’s successful appeal essentially bores the question of how poor of a job the ITIA does with doping cases. Though they are pretty thorough with their anti-corruption cases, many cases get put on CAS’ docket and pretty much every time, the player receives a reduced sentence or is cleared 100%. You see players like Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani receive longer bans than Halep for their positive tests and even ATP player Jenson Brooksby was penalized longer for missing three doping test windows — something Mikael Ymer retired over at age 25. Even former UNC player Casey Kania recently received a two-year ban for testing positive for cannabis.

The best example of how the long and arduous journey the ITIA takes a player is Tara Moore, who was out for 19 months after eating contaminated meat in Bogota, Colombia. She couldn’t travel with/support her wife, Emina Bektas, as she broke into the Top 100, she couldn’t coach for any ITIA organization and has gone into extensive debt to salvage her reputation. She also won’t be afforded the same opportunities to come back as Halep — she (unfortunately) doesn’t have any social currency as a former Top 100 doubles player.

While I do enjoy watching Halep play and have only had positive interactions with her as a fan, journalist and WTA employee, I have to admit that my gut is saying something is off here. Perhaps I’d feel different if she received a 15-month or two-year suspension instead of the nine months, I don’t know. I’m extremely curious to see CAS’ full decision, which is something the ITIA is awaiting as well to determine whether or not they will appeal the ruling — something they’re currently doing with Moore’s case. I can kind of see them voiding the ABP charge, but when you cut the sentence by an extreme margin? It opens up more questions than answers.

It will be very interesting to see how Simona Halep does on court, but also how she’s received by players and fans. She’s already a bit hypocritical for taking a wildcard into Miami after she spoke out against Maria Sharapova receiving some after she served her sentence. Ultimately, the doping system in tennis needs to change, but how? Having the ITIA is a good thing, but are they too harsh or too black-and-white and not look into the intangibles for each athlete? Can you even without setting poor precedence?

I’ll leave you with this week’s must-read of the week — Jon Wertheim’s Q&A with Simona Halep’s lawyer, Howard Jacobs, who is the go-to legal advisor for athletes undergoing doping suspensions.

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This Week in Women’s Tennis

At the time of submission, there was one third round match to be completed, with No. 23 Emma Navarro and No. 16 Elina Svitolina splitting sets. Here is where the second week stands:

(1) Iga Swiatek vs. Yulia Putintseva
(PR) Angelique Kerber vs. (WC) Caroline Wozniacki
(28) Anastasia Potapova vs. (13) Jasmine Paolini
(22) Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova vs. (31) Marta Kostyuk
Yuan Yue vs. (11) Daria Kasatkina
(24) Elise Mertens vs. (3) Coco Gauff
Diane Parry vs. (9) Maria Sakkari
No. 15 Elina Svitolina/No. 23 Emma Navarro vs. (2) Aryna Sabalenka

Defending champion Elena Rybakina withdrew before her first match due to illness, so that’s why last week’s predictions look extra terrible when you see the current draw. Aryna Sabalenka and Coco Gauff have both had to escape third set tiebreakers already, while Iga Swiatek has only dropped seven games combined against Danielle Collins and Linda Noskova. I won’t do a full breakdown of what I expect to happen, but I think Swiatek will take out Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the first semifinal, while Sabalenka will knock out Gauff. From there, I still see Sabalenka emerging with the trophy by the end of the weekend.

Emma Navarro teamed up with Ben Shelton to win the Eisenhower Cup mixed doubles exhibition tournament before Indian Wells kicked off.

The WTA and the Gates Foundation have announced a new partnership with a campaign, Women Change the Game.

I’ve discussed how important it is to have more female coaches on the WTA tour and there seems to be positive growth in that capacity.

While Danielle Collins continues her swan song, lets be glad she’s still giving us gems:

You can always count on Ons Jabeur to fight until the very end, even as she navigates a knee injury that she should probably rest, but continues to battle during an Olympic year.

Congratulations to 2013 Wimbledon finalist, Sabine Lisicki, who shared that she’s currently expecting her first child.

As she approaches her 20th birthday, Coco Gauff was unveiled as Vogue’s cover for the April 2024 issue.

No you aren’t in 2013. Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki are battling on court once again.

Because of the Paris Olympics, the Hopman Cup will be paused and is scheduled to come back in 2025.

Eva Lys updates her fans on her health and gives an important reminder that we aren’t always aware of what players are going through:

David Kane caught up with Anastasia Potapova, who got married to fellow tennis player Alexander Shevchenko over the off-season and is finding her groove in Indian Wells.

Anna Blinkova had another big win this year, taking out Jessica Pegula and sat down with the WTA Insider podcast to give some more background on herself.

Gaby Dabrowski and Jennifer Bishop were both honored with being named on Women of Influence+’s 2024 Top Women of Influence list.

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Five at The IX: BNP Paribas Open

Q. Caro, is Caro 1 compared to Caro 2 quite different and how, if so?

CAROLINE WOZNIACKI: I don’t know. I think I’m definitely older (smiling). But, you know, I think you just get a different perspective. I know it sounds like a cliché. You know, having kids and being there for them and being their role model and, you know, I mean, it just means everything to me, you know, being a mom. It’s the best thing in the world. It’s hard. It’s definitely hard work, but it’s so rewarding. It’s incredible.

To be able to play here with them and having them travel and see the world, it’s really cool to be able to live out my dreams. I think it’s just a much different perspective.

You know, I don’t have to be here. I’m here because I love to be here. You know, I’m lucky enough that I have been given some wildcards so I’m able to play these big tournaments and compete against the best players in the world. So for me, you know, obviously I want to win, I’m a competitor, I’m very competitive, and I believe in myself and my game, but it’s a different — it’s not as stressful, you know. I’m out there. I know that if I play my best tennis, I can beat anyone, but if I don’t play my best, I can also lose.

I think, for me, it’s just trying to be out there and competing the same exact way that I have been practicing. You know, trying to stay healthy is the main thing.

Q. There were some tough moments at United Cup where you seemed maybe a little rusty, struggling. Wonder if you had doubts in those moments about what you were trying to do. Can you talk about the process what got you from there where you were struggling to where you are now.

ANGELIQUE KERBER: It is really a process. At the Australian Open, also United Cup, I just played against the best players, you know. It was just for me a cold start, just putting me in the cold water.

But I really enjoyed it. We won it, I won the most important match there where Sascha lost, so I won the match against Ajla. But the whole thing that gives me, like I said before, the emotions on court, that is why I’m back to enjoying tennis, to seeing all the people back.

You know, but I know it was a process. There I was not feeling 100%, because matches are so different, also physically, mentally. And now I took also a little bit time to practice again with, yeah, the experience I had in Australia. Now I’m just looking forward to having matches and playing as many matches as possible and looking like just from day to day and hoping that I can improve and playing on my highest level again.

Q. The announcement came out last week that “Break Point” probably won’t be coming back for a third season. Curious how you look back on your participation and what is it about tennis that perhaps makes it more difficult to cover in this format compared to maybe F1 or golf?

IGA SWIATEK: Well, honestly, I didn’t know about that. I don’t have any answer to that right now.

I was involved only in Season 1, and I gotta say that it was kind of a test for me if I’m going to be comfortable talking about my life and, like, opening up so much. But, well, I think it was a great idea, but I think we have, you know, many different and complicated stories that it’s hard to, like, describe them in couple of episodes, you know.

But on the other hand, like, in other sports it’s the same case. Honestly, it’s hard for me to compare why it didn’t work out in tennis but it did in golf and Formula 1. But I can only speak about my perspective. I think that the Netflix guys were really nice and really cooperative but in the end there wasn’t much impact we had in terms of editing some stuff we didn’t like.

I know I didn’t give, like, much access, as much as other players. I accepted that I may not have the final voice, but there were some stuff that were, like, misinterpreted. My appearance in this series kind of caused some hate towards me and my team. So I just wanted to, you know, live my life peacefully and do my job, so that’s why I didn’t get into the second season.

I don’t know why it didn’t work out. Honestly, I don’t want to criticize or something, but I also, you know, saw some memes about editing and how, you know, Aryna, there was a match — I think here, the final, Aryna’s and Elena’s, she was serving on deuce and then Elena was returning from advantage side. And I think anybody who knows tennis is going to notice.

Yeah, it’s a shame that it didn’t work out.

Q. Coco, you were just talking about Rihanna and Beyonce and the business side of their careers. Are you starting to look towards those angles? If so, in what way?

COCO GAUFF: Yeah, I wouldn’t say I necessarily started. Like, I haven’t done any brainstorming or anything like that. But it’s definitely something I want to do later on in my career.

You know, I don’t know in what world that would be in. I mean, yeah, I can’t tell you. I love beauty and fashion, so maybe something in that world. But, like, again, I haven’t really brainstormed. I’m not planning on starting anything anytime soon. I think I just want to focus on tennis.

But I would say towards the later half of my career, I don’t know what the later half will look like, but maybe, like, closer to 30, it might be something I actually try to set.

Q. In January it seemed like with some of those matches that you played, the level was quite high, except for maybe the big points. Those were the ones you seem like you regretted. Seems like in the last couple of matches it felt like the bigger points were starting to flip your way. Is that how you’re seeing it? What do you think is the difference there?

NAOMI OSAKA: Definitely I think match play is really important for me and just getting in certain situations and not feeling like I’m unsure of what to do.

But I definitely felt like I was more confident today with, like, the set point and just kind of trusting myself and knowing that no matter what happens, like, go for my shots and don’t live life with regret.

I think of course in Australia, like, those, what was it, like 0 to 12 breakpoints or something, I definitely felt like now I do a lot more with my shots (smiling).

Mondays: Soccer
By: Annie Peterson, @AnnieMPeterson, AP Women’s Soccer
Tuesdays: Tennis
By: Joey Dillon, @JoeyDillon, Freelance Tennis Writer
Wednesdays: Basketball
By: Howard Megdal, @HowardMegdal, The Next
Thursdays: Golf
By: Addie Parker, @addie_parker, The IX
Fridays: Hockey
By: @TheIceGarden, The Ice Garden
Saturdays: Gymnastics
By: Lela Moore, @runlelarun, Freelance Writer

Written by Joey Dillon