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Simona Halep says ‘the stress is huge’ as she battles to return to tennis following positive drug test

Simona Halep says she has been under huge stress as the two-time grand slam winner bids to clear her name and return to tennis following a positive drug test.

Halep tested positive for Roxadustat, a banned substance listed on the 2022 World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list, at last year’s US Open and has been provisionally suspended since October.

She has denied that she knowingly took a banned substance, instead arguing that a supplement she took had been contaminated.

According to the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Roxadustat is a class of drug called HIF-stabilizing agents, which can increase the delivery of oxygen to muscles and boost endurance.

“The situation has been really hard. Emotionally, it’s heavy. The stress is huge because I never thought I would face something like this,” Halep said in an interview with Tennis Majors released on Thursday.

“I have always been against doping as I am a big supporter of clean sports. At the beginning, I didn’t know how to handle it. Over time, I just tried to stay calm and actually, I feel confident because I know I’m clean and I didn’t take anything knowingly that is banned.”

Halep’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, is one of the co-founders and shareholders of Tennis Majors.

She also said she has taken 10 negative urine tests since being notified of her positive result.

According to the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA), a player disputing a doping charge can request a hearing before a three-person independent tribunal.

In a statement on Twitter on Friday, the ITF said it “has had no involvement in the management of this case, as the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme is managed and enforced by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) on behalf of the ATP, WTA, ITF and Grand Slams.”

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An ITIA spokesperson told CNN that the process “is ongoing and is being run in line with the World Anti-Doping Code.”

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“I had a big hope that I could go to the tribunal to have a hearing and then I would know if I could play Indian Wells [in March] or not,” said Halep.

“(A) hearing on February 28 didn’t happen because the ITF requested more time to do additional testing … Everything takes so long. I asked the ITF to lift my sanction to be able to play but they also refused it.”

Halep, who has not played since a first-round defeat at last year’s US Open, said that her tribunal hearing is now scheduled to take place on May 28, adding that it is “not fair” to have waited almost eight months between her provisional suspension and the hearing.

“Emotionally, the whole period has not been easy and I just felt the need to speak out loud to my fans, to my supporters, and actually to the whole public,” she said.

“I’m sure they really want to know what’s going on and why it’s taking so long. I wanted to remain silent until the case was solved but it’s too heavy, so I felt that it would be really good for me to speak about it out loud.”