Simona Halep may have celebrated the reduction of an initial four-year ban but tennis must be wary of players "losing faith in the system" after her alleged doping-related punishment.

That was the thoughts of Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) representative Ahmad Nassar after supporting Halep through the appeal process after she was banned by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) for "intentional" doping offences.

The two-time grand slam champion remained staunch in her defence of innocence and eventually succeeded earlier this week as the ban that was initially set to last until 2026 was reduced to a nine-month suspension, which was backdated and allowed her straight back on the court.

"That's the shame of this – there are two impacts to this and they're at different ends of the spectrum," Nassar told Stats Perform.

"One is losing faith in the system and, the other is being pretty darn scared of the system.

"I never thought this could happen to even a former number one grand slam champion, or especially, a lower-ranked player that just gets completely rolled over.

"It really can happen to anyone. If we're making people lose faith in it, and simultaneously petrified of it – that's not a good system that is working."

Halep will return at the Hard Rock Stadium in Florida, where the action starts on March 17, as the former world number one marks a comeback tournament with her record – and reputation – reinstated.

Questions remain for Nassar, though, as repeated calls persist for improvements in the regulatory system with reform needed in his eyes.

"This is the end of Simona's nightmare chapter dealing with this, and may she never have any dealing with this again," he continued.

"But we just know that the process out there right now is a ticking time bomb. Other players are still navigating it, there are players to come who will sadly have to navigate it.

"The goal of the programme is a clean sport, and a fair score for first and foremost, the players.

"So how do we how do we strike that balance? Within the current system, there is a lot of room for improvement.

"How do we ease that burden without losing sight of the first goal, which is nobody wants to play in a clean sport more than the players themselves? They are most affected if somebody is cheating."

World number one Iga Swiatek will take on Caroline Wozniacki in the BNP Paribas Open quarter-finals at Indian Wells.

It took little more than an hour for Poland’s Swiatek to beat Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva in straight sets 6-1 6-2.

Wozniacki, from Denmark, defeated three-time Grand Slam winner Angelique Kerber in 90 minutes 6-4 6-2, advancing to her first WTA 1000 quarter-final since 2019 after returning to the tour.

After her match, former world number one Wozniacki said she will have to play her “best tennis to compete” with Swiatek.

“I think I have obviously commentated some of her matches,” she said. “I know how she’s playing. Obviously she’s playing good tennis, playing powerfully.

“I practiced with her as well a few times after I have come back, during the US Open as well. I know how she plays, but it’s one thing knowing how she plays and also playing against her in a full match.”

Swiatek said on court that she has great respect for Wozniacki.

“I think she’s playing great even after the maternity break. She was fighting to come back.

“I have huge respect. I’m going to prepare like any other, but off the court she’s a great person.”

Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk defeated Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4 6-1, while Russian Anastasia Potapova defeated Italian Jasmine Paolini 7-5 0-6 6-3.

Simona Halep's four-year ban being overturned comes as a "relief", though the decision to reinstate her WTA Tour position may be "bittersweet" due to time already missed on the court.

That was the message from Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) representative Ahmad Nassar, who discussed the damage that the initial decision could have on Halep's career.

The two-time grand slam champion was handed a long ban by the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) for "intentional" doping offences.

Halep, who won the 2018 French Open and Wimbledon in 2019, repeatedly defended her innocence.

The 32-year-old's appeal was eventually successful earlier this week as the ban that was initially set to last until 2026 was reduced to a nine-month suspension, which was backdated, meaning Halep can return to the court immediately.

"Bittersweet is a good word," Nassar told Stats Perform after the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) ruling.

"Relief is another word I would use. It's just a relief after a year and a half. The ups and downs of waiting, and then having this initial decision with the four-year ban, and the resulting 116-page decision.

"I worked in US federal court for a year after law school and a lot of times people write decisions to try to bulletproof it on appeal. Other times, it's kind of a pro forma thing, because there's zero chance that's going to get overturned on appeal.

"So when I saw that my first reaction was this is intended to try to bulletproof, throw the proverbial book at her and her team.

"So that on appeal, exactly what ended up happening didn't happen. That's such a sign of how broken the system is, because that shouldn't really be the motivation, the motivation should be what's the right answer?

"I represent all the players, not just Simona. And we go out of our way to say, all the players deserve a clean sport, first and foremost.

"Nobody's more affected by potential doping, especially in tennis, where it's one on one or two on two, than the players. 

"It's a win in a fairly technical sense. They sought to take it from four to six years, which to me is just a jaw-dropper. If you think about that, neither side was happy with the four-year ban, which makes it all the more remarkable that CAS ruled the way they did."

Halep, the former world number one, will make her return at the Hard Rock Stadium in Florida, where action starts on March 17.

Whether she will be able to get back into her stride after a prolonged absence remains to be seen, a sticking point for Nassar.

He added: "Nobody won because you don't get to go back in time. Even if you went back to exactly the day after the nine-month suspension ended, which would have been last summer and let her resume play.

"Still, she went through nine months of assuming the worst, reading the worst, seeing the worst, hearing the worst. It's not only time but also opportunity, it's reputation.

"You take years and years and a whole career, decades to build up your name and you can lose it and your credibility and trust. You can lose it in an instant, and it's hard from that standpoint.

"That really frustrates me. This is not one of those things where you say, 'It's just professional sports, it comes with the territory', because when I look at other sports, this same dynamic does not exist.

"We don't want to call this a real win. She's a former number one, a major champion, with resources and wherewithal and ability, and later in her career, to be able to push back against this real machine that was mobilised against her.

"Most players, 99 per cent of them do not have that and so they take it on the chin, and either retire, or just take the four years and hope that they cut some terrible deal, if that's even in the offing, to settle and move on with their lives.

"That's why the players created the PTPA. It just highlights a huge gap in the system that is going to take years to fill, even on the anti-doping side. It's going to take years.

"I think there's some incremental reforms that hopefully can occur because of this situation that are better for everybody, not just the players. But it's going to be a long-term process."

Katie Boulter was brought back down to earth with a straight-sets loss to Camila Giorgi in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

Boulter arrived at the tournament riding a crest of a wave after she secured a maiden WTA 500 title at the San Diego Open to continue her excellent 2024.

It earned the British number one a new career-best ranking of 27, but her momentum was checked after a 6-3 6-2 loss in quick fashion to Italian opponent Giorgi.

Giorgi entered this match in poor form and early breaks were exchanged between the duo before the first set went the way of the 32-year-old in 40 minutes.

After Giorgi claimed a decisive second break to edge the opener 6-3, two early breaks handed her the initiative at the start of the next set.

Boulter did finally get off the mark to make it 4-1 but there was no way back and she exited after a 78-minute loss.

Emma Raducanu insists working on her game rather than winning matches is the priority this year.

The former US Open champion has won three of the seven matches she has played in 2024 following her return from triple surgery last spring on both wrists and one ankle.

Raducanu will play Spanish qualifier Rebeka Masarova on Thursday in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where she has been given a wild card.

The 21-year-old, who reached the fourth round in the Californian desert last year, has been training at home in London for the last couple of weeks, and she told the BBC: “I want to work on becoming a better tennis player.

“I think for me I’m not too concerned about this year’s tournaments. A lot of people out there would say that I need matches, but I think that for me I want to work on my game and development.

“Taking time to do that is very necessary and not just following the crowd, or playing a lot of matches, or dropping down (below the WTA Tour) to do that. I want to work on developing skills.”

Raducanu also said that she is likely to play in next month’s Billie Jean King Cup tie against France if selected by Great Britain captain Anne Keothavong.

British number one Katie Boulter thanked boyfriend Alex de Minaur for racing over to California to watch her win a first WTA 500 tournament after his own success at the Mexican Open.

The 27-year-old came from behind to claim the San Diego Open title with a 5-7 6-2 6-2 win over Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk and earn a second career title.

Boulter’s victory was watched by De Minaur, who defended his Mexican Open title in Acapulco on Saturday before scheduling an early-morning flight to support her on Sunday.

“I want to say a small special thank you to my boyfriend,” Boulter said post-match.

“He finished last night at midnight and I really want to embarrass him. He got a 4.15 taxi this morning and six o’clock flight to be here today, so I do appreciate it.”

After an even start to the match, Kostyuk began to get the better of Boulter and surged into a 5-2 lead.

Boulter fought back to level at 5-5 but the sixth-seeded Ukrainian regained the momentum to wrap up the first set 7-5.

Boulter then found her groove in the second, dominating on her first serve to clinch the set 6-2 and force a deciding third set.

The Briton continued her ascendancy into the third, claiming the first break point of the set en route to opening up a 3-1 advantage.

Boulter broke again in the seventh game and hit her first two aces of the match in the next to close out the victory in two hours and 13 minutes.

The San Diego win is her second WTA title, adding to a maiden championship on grass in Nottingham last summer and Boulter reflected on a “special” week in California.

“This week has been very, very special for so many different reasons,” she said post-match.

“This one is pretty amazing, I’ve worked very hard for it, I played some incredible tennis all week.

“Today was a complete battle, with myself as well because I was a little bit nervous. But I managed to get over the line and that I’m very proud of.

“A lot of it was about me staying as tough as I possibly could mentally and I managed to keep my cool and actually kind of went within myself and calmed myself down a lot.

“I think that really helped me and then I started to relax and play through shots a little bit more.”

Boulter has had a flying start to the 2024 season and the victory over Kostyuk sees her break into the top 30 for the first time, now ranked 27th.

British number one Katie Boulter has claimed her first WTA 500 tournament victory with a 5-7 6-2 6-2 win over Ukrainian Marta Kostyuk in the final of the San Diego Open.

The 27-year-old from Leicester was watched by boyfriend Alex De Minaur, who scheduled an early-morning flight after retaining his title in Acapulco.

After an even start between the two, the sixth seeded Ukrainian began to get the better of Boulter, stringing multiple games together and rapidly closing in on the opening set.

Boulter fought back to even the set at 5-5, but Kostyuk regained the momentum to wrap up the first set 7-5.

Boulter then found her groove in the second, dominating on her first serve to clinch the set 6-2 and force a deciding third set.

The Briton continued her ascendancy into the third, claiming the first break point of the set en route to opening up a 3-1 advantage.

Boulter broke again in the seventh game and stormed home from there to close out the victory in two hours and 13 minutes.

Both women picked up their first WTA Tour titles last year in breakout 2023 seasons.

Boulter claimed her maiden championship on grass in Nottingham last summer, while Kostyuk found victory in Austin.

Boulter has had a flying start to the 2024 season and the victory over Kostyuk guarantees she will break into the top 30 for the first time.

Maria Sharapova used an article in Vanity Fair to announce she was “saying goodbye” to tennis, on this day in 2020.

Sharapova had struggled with chronic shoulder problems for some time and the five-time grand slam champion and former world number one had dropped to 373rd in the rankings.

The then-32-year-old said it would be a wrench to walk away, writing: “How do you leave behind the only life you’ve ever known?

“How do you walk away from the courts you’ve trained on since you were a little girl, the game that you love – one which brought you untold tears and unspeakable joys – a sport where you found a family, along with fans who rallied behind you for more than 28 years?

“I’m new to this, so please forgive me. Tennis – I’m saying goodbye.”

Having announced her talent by winning Wimbledon at the age of just 17 in 2004, Sharapova went on to establish herself as one of the greats of her era – among her contemporaries, only Serena and Venus Williams won more slam singles titles.

Sharapova added the US Open title in 2006 and the Australian Open in 2008 before twice lifting the trophy at Roland Garros, in 2012 and 2014. She is one of only 10 women to achieve the career Grand Slam.

Her impact on court was trumped by her profile off it, with the Russian the world’s highest-earning female athlete for much of her career.

In 2016 came the bombshell announcement that she had failed a doping test for the cardiac drug meldonium, which had been added to the banned list at the start of that year.

Sharapova was banned for two years, reduced to 15 months on appeal.

She returned to action in April 2017 but was unable to reach her previous heights, peaking at a high of 21 in the rankings and reaching just one more grand slam quarter-final.

In July 2022, Sharapova became a mother with the birth of her son Theodore and has taken up pickleball in her post-retirement life.

Earlier this month, she partnered up with John McEnroe to take on Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf – in Pickleball Slam 2 – losing out on the one million USD (£789,000) prize.

Coco Gauff's emergence as arguably the biggest star of American tennis since Serena Williams is great for the women's game, says former British number one Laura Robson.

Gauff captured the imagination of the American public by winning the US Open last September, the 19-year-old fighting back to beat Aryna Sabalenka in a memorable final at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

That made the teenager the first American – male or female – to win the tournament since Williams, who won the event for the sixth time in 2014. Gauff, Williams and her sister Venus are the only American women to claim the trophy in the 21st century.

Gauff will look to back up that success at the Australian Open when the first major of the year begins on Sunday, and Robson is delighted to see her thriving after being criticised earlier in 2023.

"I love what she's done in the last three months in particular, because over the clay courts and the grass-court season, everyone was writing her off," Robson told Stats Perform.

"She just went back to the drawing board, got a new team around her, played unbelievably at the Cincinnati Masters and came into the US Open with confidence. 

"You could tell, with the way that she played the longer matches, she just felt so good about her game. You could see how she was moving out there. 

"She is definitely the fastest out on tour at the moment on the women's side. I'm just super pumped for her. 

"To be in the stadium and to feel the energy when she won the US Open was crazy.

"I'd say 99.99 per cent of the stadium was going for her and it's going to be a huge boost for women's tennis to have an American superstar like her."

Asked whether Gauff was the natural successor to Williams – who finished her glittering career one major title shy of Margaret Court's record of 24 – Robson said other players' efforts to push American tennis forward should not be overlooked.

"I definitely feel like Jessica Pegula and Madison keys and people like that don't quite get enough credit for how much they've pushed American tennis," Robson continued. 

"Even going into the US Open, Pegula was the number one American, but Coco definitely had more attention on her, which is great because their different profiles are being raised, but at the same time they were still pushing each other along and playing doubles together almost every week. 

"It's just fantastic to see and the fact that there's now another name that you're throwing into the mix just makes everyone feel better."

Gauff currently sits a career-high third in the world rankings, though she has plenty of ground to make up on the top two, with Iga Swiatek currently edging out Sabalenka. 

Robson expects that duo to trade places often as they battle to dominate the women's game, saying: "You definitely struggle to see Swiatek losing at Roland Garros, with the way that she goes on clay.

"I think it's going to be quite nice because they each have different strengths. You would almost say Sabalenka goes slightly better on a hard court and Iga is better on clay.

"I can see it almost swapping back and forth over the next few years, but Iga is going to be right in there, for sure."

Coco Gauff has every chance of adding to her 2023 US Open triumph by winning further grand slam titles in the coming years.

That is the view of former world number four Johanna Konta, who also believes it is "only a matter of time" before the American rises to the top of the WTA rankings.

Having lost the French Open final to Iga Swiatek as an 18-year-old in 2022, Gauff went one step further on home soil last September, becoming the first American teenager to win the US Open title since Serena Williams in 1999.

Gauff is looking to add to that triumph when the Australian Open begins on Sunday, and she is considered one of the favourites to claim the trophy after making a flying start to 2024.

The teenager captured her second straight Auckland Classic title on Sunday, fighting back to beat Elina Svitolina and make it seven wins from eight tour-level singles finals in her career.

Konta believes last year's US Open victory was just the start for Gauff, telling Stats Perform: "She's already a grand slam champion. So, she's got every possibility to win multiple grand slams. 

"Once you're winning those tournaments, then it's only a matter of time before you get to world number one."

Gauff is up to third in the world rankings – the highest position of her career – though she has work to do to overhaul world number one Swiatek, who has won three of the last seven grand slams and is targeting her first Australian Open success after going out in the fourth round last year.

Konta, who failed to win a major during her own career despite reaching the last four at Melbourne Park, Roland Garros and Wimbledon, thinks the 22-year-old will be a force to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. 

"I think she's an incredibly consistent player, the level is just very consistent," Konta said of Swiatek.

"I think she will be one of the ones that will be there for a long time if she's just able to sustain that. I think she'll be one of the top handful."

British 14-year-old Hannah Klugman cemented her status as one of the most exciting prospects in the sport by winning the prestigious Orange Bowl title in Florida.

The historic under-18 tournament ranks alongside the grand slams as one of the biggest events in the junior game, with recent winners including grand slam champions Coco Gauff, Bianca Andreescu and Sofia Kenin.

Klugman defeated top seed Laura Samsonova in the quarter-finals and fourth seed Iva Jovic in the last four before a 6-3 6-3 success against American Tyra Grant in the final on Sunday.

She is the first British player to win the main girls’ title having finished runner-up in the under-14 tournament last year.

Klugman said: “It’s an amazing feeling. I played 14s last year and made the final. I was really gutted I didn’t get the win, and obviously to get the win at under-18s, I’m still just 14, it’s incredible. This is still just part of the journey, a little step, but it’s nice.

“I was walking past the poster with all the great players (who have won). I saw Coco Gauff. It’s good that I can be on that board. It doesn’t mean anything in the big picture but hopefully I can make it.”

The success caps a brilliant season for the schoolgirl, who reached her first junior grand slam quarter-final at the US Open as well as finishing runner-up in the girls’ doubles at Wimbledon with compatriot Isabelle Lacy.

Klugman, from Wimbledon, has also already started to make her mark in the women’s game, elevating her ranking inside the top 700.

Having seen Grant peg her back from 3-0 down in the second set, Klugman again showed her maturity to turn things back in her favour, finishing with a run of three games in a row.

“I’ve been so strong on court,” she said. “I was a match point down in one of my matches and also stepping up on those big points. I think I’m really taking on the shots, being aggressive. But for sure it’s my mentality, staying calm out there.”

Emma Raducanu will make her comeback at the ASB Classic in Auckland next month.

The 21-year-old has not played a match since a heavy loss to Jelena Ostapenko in Stuttgart in April. She subsequently withdrew from the Madrid Open and opted to undergo surgery on both wrists and one ankle.

Having initially targeted a comeback in late summer or early autumn, Raducanu has ended up missing the rest of the 2023 season.

Until recently there were doubts over whether she would make the start of next year but those have eased in recent weeks as she has stepped up her training.

And it has now been announced she will play at the WTA tournament in New Zealand beginning on January 1.

It will be Raducanu’s second appearance in Auckland and she will hope it is more positive than her debut in January, when she suffered an ankle injury during her second-round match and retired in tears.

The former US Open champion was able to recover to compete at the Australian Open but opted to undergo a procedure on her ankle to repair the damage in the spring.

 

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She criticised the “slippery” courts afterwards but has decided to accept a wild card to return.

Raducanu’s ranking has slipped to 296 and she faces a long road back to the top of the game, but it should give her the opportunity to fill in some of the steps she missed out thanks to her giant leap to stardom.

She can use a protected ranking of 103 to enter tournaments because of her long lay-off but that is currently not high enough to earn her a place in the main draw of the Australian Open.

Barring enough withdrawals of higher-ranked players, or a wild card, she will have to go through qualifying at a slam for the first time since her stunning title run in New York in 2021.

Reigning US Open champion Coco Gauff, former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and Wimbledon semi-finalist Elina Svitolina are among the other names confirmed for the Auckland tournament.

Johanna Konta became the first British woman to break into the world’s top 10 in 32 years after beating Madison Keys on this day in 2016 to reach the final of the China Open.

Konta, then 25, beat American world number nine Madison Keys 7-6 (1) 4-6 6-4 in the last four and was the first British player since Jo Durie in 1984 to enter the WTA’s top 10.

Despite losing to Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in the final in Beijing, Konta ended the year as number 10 in the rankings.

Konta’s rapid rise coincided with her decision to team up with coach Esteban Carril in northern Spain 17 months earlier, when she was ranked 146th in the world.

She had reached the fourth round of the US Open to end 2015 inside the top 50 and earlier in 2016 reached the Australian Open semi-finals and won her first WTA title at Stanford.

Konta’s victory over Keys at the China Open was her seventh over a top-10 player in 2016.

She won her second WTA title in Sydney in early 2017, reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open and triumphed at the Miami Open by beating former world number one Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

That success saw Konta rise to world number seven and she climbed to a career-high position of fourth in 2017 after becoming the first British woman to reach the Wimbledon singles semi-finals since Virginia Wade in 1978.

Konta lost to Venus Williams in the last four and after injury setbacks and loss of form in 2018, reached the French Open semi-finals and the US Open quarter-finals in 2019.

After further struggles with form and fitness – she was dogged by a right knee injury – Konta announced her retirement in December 2021.

Coco Gauff will take on Iga Swiatek in the semi-finals of the China Open after continuing her winning streak in Beijing.

The US Open champion made it 16 victories in a row with a straightforward 6-2 6-4 success against Greek Maria Sakkari, who saw her late charge to qualify for the WTA Finals end.

Second seed Swiatek had a tougher time against Caroline Garcia but fought back from a set down to defeat the Frenchwoman 6-7 (8) 7-6 (5) 6-1.

Swiatek won her first seven matches against Gauff without dropping a set but the American turned the tables in the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in August prior to lifting her maiden grand slam title.

“Everybody who plays her, no matter the game style, you have to be prepared to run and just be ready for everything,” said Gauff.

“She’s in the position she is for a reason, she’s one of the best players in the world for a reason, and I’m just going to go out there and hopefully do a similar result to Cincinnati. If not, I’m really proud  of the way that I’ve been doing to get to the semi-finals so far.”

Swiatek was twice within two points of defeat against Garcia, and she said: “For sure it was really intense. We played really fast. There was no time sometimes to think or analyse. I’m happy I used my intuition a lot.

“In both of these first sets, every ball counted. I’m happy that in the third I could just go for it.”

Coco Gauff extended her winning run to a season-leading 15 matches with victory over Veronika Kudermetova at the China Open.

The US Open champion is bidding for a third successive title and saved four set points in the opener against last week’s Tokyo champion Kudermetova before clinching a 7-6 (5) 6-2 win in Beijing.

Gauff will next face sixth seed Maria Sakkari, who battled to a 6-4 2-6 6-3 victory over home hope Wang Xinyu.

World number one Aryna Sabalenka is also through to the quarter-finals after seeing off unseeded Italian Jasmine Paolini 6-4 7-6 (4).

That set up an Australian Open final rematch against fifth seed Elena Rybakina, who defeated 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva on Wednesday.

Sabalenka won one of the matches of the season in Melbourne but lost to her rival in the Indian Wells final.

“I know that I’ll have some chances to win this match,” said the top seed. “In the last match I lost, I got nervous a little bit and I rushed a little bit more. The key against Elena is just to stay calm, stay aggressive, and not over-rush things.”

Ninth seed Caroline Garcia is also through to the last eight after defeating Anna Kalinina 6-3 6-2.

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