Simona Halep, a two-time Grand Slam tennis champion, has been suspended from competing for four years for violating anti-doping policies, the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) announced Tuesday.
Halep, 31, is accused of two separate breaches of the Tennis Anti-Doping Program (TADP): the use of roxadustat, a prohibited substance; and irregularities in her Athlete Biological Passport, which is used to monitor a player's biological variables over time, the organization said.
Roxadustat is often used to treat anemia, but is prohibited in the sport because it increases hemoglobin and the production of red blood cells, the ITIA explained in its statement.
"The ITIA has followed the proper processes as we would with any other individual —in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code— fulfilling our purpose and responsibility to uphold the principle of fair competition, on behalf of the sport," said Karen Moorhouse, the CEO of the ITIA.
The roxadustat was found in a urine sample from Halep collected during the U.S. Open in 2022. The Romanian athlete claimed that the substance was detected due to a contaminated supplement she took; however, the ITIA determined "the volume the player ingested could not have resulted in the concentration of roxadustat found in the positive sample."
The expert group evaluating Halep's Athlete Biological Passport determined that the evidence of doping was strong enough to charge her with the anti-doping violation. "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 experts that 'likely doping' was the explanation for the irregularities in Halep's profile."
In a statement posted to social media on Tuesday, Halep "refused to accept the decision," denied any wrongdoing and said she would appeal the suspension.
"I have devoted my life to the beautiful game of tennis," she wrote. "I take the rules that govern our sport very seriously and take pride in the fact I have never knowingly or intentionally used any prohibited substance."
According to Halep, she has taken 200 blood and urine tests throughout her career to check for prohibited drugs, and they have all come out clean —until the urine test in August 2022. She explained that the roxadustat must have been found due to a recent change to her nutritional supplements, which did not contain any prohibited substances, but could have been contaminated.
She added that her nearly-weekly drug tests throughout 2023 have been negative.
Halep is also alleging that the ITIA's expert group only brought an Athlete Biological Passport charge after discovering her identity, changing the opinions of two out of three of the evaluators.
Patrick Mouratoglou, Halep's coach, spoke out against the suspension as well, saying he is "shocked" by the behavior of the ITIA.
"I do not believe that the ITIA looked for the truth in Simona's case, and I do not believe that they treated her in a way that is acceptable," Mouratoglou wrote.
The suspension, which is backdated, will run from Oct. 7, 2022, to Oct. 6, 2026.