SIMONA Halep will almost certainly take her case to the CAS in an attempt to clear her name after she was banned for four years last week for violating the anti-doping program.

But the International Tennis Integrity Agency, a body that after months of bureaucracy and delay, finally made its decision on Tuesday, quite clearly and deliberately in this column’s opinion, left a player out to dry for a year.

And the decision, according to leading expert Jean-Claude Alvarez, is wrong.

Alvarez is the director of the toxicology laboratory at Garches University Hospital in France.

“We think we’re dreaming. Here, we are in the process of condemning an innocent person,” Alvares told L’Equipe.

“The concentration in her hair, it is not possible that she takes roxadustat effectively.

Elina Svitolina and Simona Halep after a women’s singles match at the 2021 US Open. Photo: Pete Staples/USTA

“Roxadustat is a molecule that almost does not exist in Europe, it does not exist in the United States and it is contaminated twice according to the ITIA.

“The roxadustat level is 0.2 nanograms per millilitre (in urine) for Simona Halep. It doesn’t mean anything anymore. You may have them if you take dietary supplements. It is bullsh*t.

“There is a patient treated in France with roxadustat, I took a hair sample from this lady. I have over 100 times more concentration in this lady’s hair than Simona’s. We are experiencing a real scandal from WADA.”

If CAS upholds the decision then Halep is guilty, but the ITIA is also guilty because making a player wait a year smacks of at best incompetence or at worst of something more sinister.

We’ll leave the call on that one to you the reader, but no player should be forced through process.

Halep is a warrior and having come tis far, against all the odds stacked against her, if she believes she is innocent, will fight this.

Serena Williams’ unhelpful comments over the Halep ban, only add to fuel to the debate that while she (Serena) may be regarded as one of the game’s best players, but as a human being?

We can all recall the disgusting scenes and abuse thrown at the umpire in New York.

Williams later ‘unliked’ the post, but it was too late as many viewers made sure they had that precious screenshot to prove it.

Halep, 31, was provisionally suspended in September last year after testing positive for blood-booster Roxadustat.

“The first [charge] related to an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for the prohibited substance roxadustat at the US Open in 2022, carried out through regular urine testing during competition,” the ITIA statement said.

We are in the process of condemning an innocent person

Jean-Claude Alvarez

“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 second charge related to irregularities in Halep’s Athlete Biological Passport (ABP).”

So a contaminated supplement defence and one the ITIA originally accepted.

Confused? Aussie John Millman was. He cam out in support of Halep, writing on Twitter: “The ITIA delays in regards to Simona Halep’s case is a disgrace. One way or the other she shouldn’t be constantly mucked around like this.”

Coach Patrick Mouratoglou has also defended her.

“The process and the ITIA have been totally unfair to Simona and it is totally unacceptable,” he said.

“I hope that Simona will prevail at CAS which is the only tribunal that is not controlled by the ITIA. I do not believe they treated her in a way that is acceptable.

“I cannot believe the decision that the ITIA has taken. I am extremely shocked and have been during the whole year by the methods and the behaviour of an organisation that is supposed to treat the players fairly and try to establish the truth. I know Simona’s integrity and I have no doubt that she has never taken any banned substance.”

There can be surely few who would argue against that. The process has been a joke. A process that for a year has taken the approach that you are guilty until or if you can prove your innocence.

Yet all the WTA does is issue a warning about the anti-doping program.

If Halep is guilty of knowingly doping, then she deserves her punishment, but the process of the investigation by the WTA and ITIA has been woefully short of what one should expect from a professional sports body.

IN an attempt to stave off the takeover of tennis by the Saudis, the ATP and WTA will meet next week in London to discuss a merger.

The trio-day summit was called by ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi and WTA chief executive Steve Simon as the game faces an attempt by Saudi Arabia to hijack several major events.

A unified tour is seen by many as major benefit, but there are a number of significant hurdles to overcome if a merger is to happen.

While Grand Slams offer equal prize money, many other events don’t.

But the ATP has over many years been far more successful and aggressive in growing its sponsorship and media revenues.

And men outside the slams earn about 75% more than women – but that is the fault of the WTA, it has been woefully inept at growing its sponsors or TV base.

Each organisation has its own sponsorship, broadcast and data partners, and the consensus is that it may be unfeasible to run some tournaments as combined events.

Then there’s the politics.

The ATP has already confirmed Jeddah will host the Next Gen Finals from 2023 to 2027.

Gaudenzi has already been in “positive” talks with the Saudi regime’s state investment fund (PIF) since June.

The WTA has reportedly been considering staging its finals in Riyadh, but has received massive push back due to Saudi Arabia’s stance on women’s rights.

Reports last week suggested the tournament is now expected to be held in the Czech Republic.

Stopping the Saudis taking over another sport is seen as paramount and while there are issues to be addressed, a combined ATP-WTA circuit would give stability and resources to both tours.

Karolina Pliskova in action in Shenzhen in November 2019. Photo: REUTERS/Aly Song

THE WTA looks to have backed down in its row with China over the assault of Peng Shuai, with seven tournaments taking place there over the next seven weeks.

This year, it will hold tournaments in Guangzhou (Sept 18-23) and Ningbo (Sept 25-30) before the season’s final WTA 1000 event in Beijing (Sept 30-Oct. 8).

Tournaments will also be held in Zhengzhou, Hong Kong, Nanchang and Zhuhai next month.

Daniil Medvedev won the Shanghai Masters in 2019.

AND the ATP tour will make its return to Shanghai, China for the Shanghai Masters, which will be held from October 4-15.

An ATP 1000 Masters event, the Shanghai Masters has been on hold since 2019, Daniil Medvedev winning the title at that year’s edition.

$8,800,000 is on offer as prize money.

Novak Djokovic in action in New York with the Moderna sponsor sign in the background. Photo: Roger Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

THE US Open released its PR-spun attendance stats on Monday, once the 2023 event had ended.

A new Grand Slam attendance record was set as the numbers are now played out over three weeks.

The US Open welcomed 957,387 fans over the 20 days encompassing the Main Draw and Fan Week, an almost eight per cent increase on 2022.

The events main draw attendance was a US Open record 799,402.

All 25 sessions in Arthur Ashe Stadium sold out for the second year in a row, and both the Men’s (28,804) and Women’s Championship (28,143) sessions were the highest-attended Championship sessions in US Open history.

HOW Ironic to see Novak Djokovic winning the USOpen last weekend – an event sponsored by Covid vaccine manufactures Moderna.

Of course, Novaxx, as he became known, steadfastly refused to conform to the rules the rest of the world was forced to live by.

An almost empty Davis Cup Manchester arena.

AND finally… is the Davis Cup dead?

Attendances would certainly suggest that. Or is the current format at fault?

Swiss star Stan Wawrinka hit out at Gerard Pique’s influence on the event on social media last week.

The Spaniard ended a commercial agreement with the competition recently, but still came under fire for the way the tournament has since evolved.

The ending of the traditional ‘home’ and ‘away’ match system in favour of playing all ties at a central often neutral venue looks to have backfired spectacularly with attendances dropping way dramatically.

The attendance in Manchester last week for Switzerland’s match against France was abysmal.

Warwinka was less than impressed, posting criticism of Pique’s event idea on social media.

AND finally, finally ….

Carlos Alcaraz copped unwelcome abuse from PETA for attending a bullfighting event in Spain recently.

PETA’s UK branch – a rowdy anti-choice, vegan, people-hating mob, demanded Alcaraz reconsider his participation in such events.

To those who don’t know PETA? They are the ultra vegan activists trying to stop people eating meat and even advocating voting rights for animals!

Enough said.