Two-time grand slam champion Simona Halep has been given a four-year ban for anti-doping rule violations, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) announced on Tuesday.
Halep, who has previously denied wrongdoing, responded to the announcement by saying she will appeal and has “never knowingly or intentionally used any prohibited substance.”
She added: “I am continuing to train and do everything in my power to clear my name of these false allegations and return to the court.”
The former world No. 1, who won the French Open in 2018 and Wimbledon in 2019, was charged with two separate breaches of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme.
The first, the ITIA said, related to Halep testing positive for banned substance roxadustat – which is listed on the 2022 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List – at the US Open last year.
According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), roxadustat is a class of drug called HIF-stabilizing agents and can increase an athlete’s red blood cell count and increase endurance performance.
The second charge was for irregularities in Halep’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), which is designed to monitor an athlete’s selected biological variables over time.
“The tribunal accepted Halep’s argument that they had taken a contaminated supplement, but determined the volume the player ingested could not have resulted in the concentration of roxadustat found in the positive sample,” the ITIA said in a press release.
“The ABP charge was also upheld, with the tribunal stating that they had no reason to doubt the unanimous ‘strong opinion’ reached by each of the three independent Athlete Passport Management Unit (APMU) experts that ‘likely doping’ was the explanation for the irregularities in Halep’s profile.”
The ITIA said that the 31-year-old’s suspension is backdated and will run from October 7, 2022, until October 6, 2026, and it says the case is subject to appeal.
Halep, whose last appearance was at last year’s US Open, has been suspended since October 2022.
“Today, a tribunal under the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme announced a tentative decision in my case,” she said in a statement. “The last year has been the hardest match of my life, and unfortunately my fight continues.”
Halep added that she had adjusted her nutritional supplements ahead of the hard-court season in 2022. She said that none of the listed ingredients included any prohibited substances, but accepted that one of them was contaminated with roxadustat.
“I was tested almost weekly after my initial positive test through early 2023, all of which came back negative.”
Halep added she was “eternally grateful” for the support from her friends, family and fans and that she will “appeal this decision to The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and pursue all legal remedies against the supplement company in question.”
He added: “I’m shocked because I’ve been with her through the whole process. And the decision is completely, for me, impossible to understand … I was at the hearing with her throughout and I sat there and I listened to everything for two days.
“Listening to what I listened to and to the evidence and everything, I don’t understand how it is possible to condemn her at all.
“Of course, she’s going to go to the CAS … I hope that those people will see it fairly and that she will be released.”