Paula Badosa beat Simona Halep in Miami upon her return from a suspension for doping.

Paula Badosa beat Simona Halep in Miami upon her return from a suspension for doping.

After a shortened doping ban, Simona Halep reentered the world of professional tennis after 568 days. In her comeback, she faced a challenging and demanding match against Paula Badosa of Spain in the first round of the Miami Open, falling with a final score of 1-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Although she suffered a loss, the former top-ranked player’s display signifies her initial progress towards returning to the highest echelon of the sport. Halep has not participated in any matches since her defeat to Daria Snigur in the opening round of the 2022 US Open, as she tested positive for roxadustat after the match.

Initially, Halep received a four-year suspension for using a banned substance and for abnormalities in her athlete blood passport. However, the court of arbitration for sport (Cas) recently reduced her ban, stating that Halep did not intentionally engage in doping. The full explanation for the reduced ban of nine months has not been released yet by Cas.

“Nervous at first, Halep made two double faults in her initial service game against Badosa. However, she quickly regained her composure and was able to outperform Badosa with her consistent play, strong movement, and deep shots. This led to an early break in the match and a smooth first set for Halep.”

Although Badosa has a substantial record as a former world No 2, she has faced challenges with injuries in the past year, including a recurring back injury. Her lack of assurance was evident from the start as she made numerous unforced errors in the first set. However, she gradually found her rhythm and improved throughout the match. While Halep maintained steady shots, the 33-year-old struggled with her serving and Badosa capitalized on her opponent’s losing focus in the second set.

After not playing top-level tennis for a while, Halep became physically drained and experienced shoulder pain. She called for a medical break before Badosa won the second set 5-4. In the final set, Halep appeared tired and making mistakes, while Badosa took an initial lead and managed to hold on despite dealing with discomfort in her right foot towards the end.

Halep’s attention will now shift to the upcoming clay court season, during which she will need to use wildcards in order to participate at the highest level. After spending over a year away from competition, the Romanian will be returning to the sport without a ranking, having been ranked No 7 in August 2022. Unlike for injuries or maternity leave, the WTA does not permit players to use protected rankings upon their return from doping suspensions.

Halep, a previous top-ranked player and winner of a grand slam title, will have the opportunity to receive an indefinite number of wildcards as she resumes her career. In comparison, most players are typically limited to three wildcards for the main draw and three for qualifying rounds. Given her prestigious status and the attention her comeback will attract, it is unlikely that Halep will face any challenges in obtaining these wildcards from tournaments.

Unfortunately, Sabalenka’s boyfriend passed away on Monday in Miami. Despite this tragedy, Sabalenka is still set to compete as the second seed in the tournament. She is expected to face Badosa on Thursday, as scheduled. While she did not attend media day on Tuesday due to her loss, Sabalenka did train in Miami that afternoon and plans to continue with the tournament.