Tennis: Simona Halep: 'Anti-diva' of tennis cleared for return from doping ban

AFP , Tuesday 5 Mar 2024

When Simona Halep stunned Serena Williams to win the 2019 Wimbledon title, the gutsy Romanian was one of the All England Club's more popular champions, cementing her standing as tennis's "anti-diva".

Simona Halep
FILE Romania s Simona Halep celebrates after beating Poland s Magdalena Frech in their women s third round singles match on day six of the Wimbledon tennis championships in London, Saturday, July 2, 2022. AP

On Tuesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced a potentially career-ending doping ban from four years to nine months, paving the way for Halep's possible immediate return to the court.

Before her suspension from the sport, Halep had already demonstrated incredible resolve to win the 2018 French Open having lost all three of her previous Slam finals.

She endeared herself by announcing on the eve of that Paris finale, where she saw off Sloane Stephens from a set down, that she "would be OK" if she lost again, as "no-one would have died".

Halep had lost the 2014 French Open final to Maria Sharapova and the 2017 championship match in Paris after leading Jelena Ostapenko by a set and 3-0.

Her third heartbreaker came in 2018 against Caroline Wozniacki in a marathon Australian Open final in sweltering heat in Melbourne.

Halep, who also became world number one in August 2017, is only the second Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam singles title, following in the footsteps of 1978 Roland Garros champion Virginia Ruzici.

She is a huge star in her home country -- she has appeared on the front cover of the Romanian edition of Elle magazine and opened a restaurant called SH in her Black Sea hometown of Constanta.

"The fact that I am able to win maybe will give an inspiration also to Romanians, the kids, that it's possible, even if you come from a little country, it's possible if you work and if you believe," she once said.

One of the main reasons why Halep had to wait so long to lift a major title was her relative lack of power when compared to the game's other big stars.

'Good and truth always prevail'

But she found compensation: "I'm fast, though, no?"

Halep has claimed 24 singles titles and banked more than $40 million from her on-court performances.

But she was rarely seduced by the glitter of the sports world. Respected US magazine Sports Illustrated once described Halep as an "anti-diva".

At the time of her 2019 Wimbledon title victory, Halep was only following two people on Twitter, now X.

One was former coach Darren Cahill and the other, bizarrely, was four-time world snooker champion Mark Selby.

"I have no idea how you play snooker. But I appreciate him," said Halep.

"He's been in Romania a few times. I met him. Also I have a snooker ball signed from him. That's why I follow him."

Halep also has been questioned about her decision 15 years ago to undergo breast reduction surgery, with her saying they made her "uncomfortable" when she played.

For Halep, now 32, her character and famously good nature were tested to the limits when she was suspended in 2022 and then handed a four-year ban in September 2023.

She had protested her innocence, describing her absence from the sport as a "nightmare" and that she was waiting for the result of her appeal with her "head held high".

"Good and truth always prevail."

(For more sports news and updates, follow Ahram Online Sports on Twitter at @AO_Sports and on Facebook at AhramOnlineSports.)

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