Aryna Sabalenka got her Madrid Open campaign started with a 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over Magda Linette on Friday.

Sabalenka could not quite hit her peak form against Linette, but the world number two nevertheless got the job done after going the distance.

The Belarusian is hunting a record-equalling third title in Madrid, where she is the reigning champion, though she has not won back-to-back matches at a tournament since winning the Australian Open.

"It's not about being confident," Sabalenka said. "It's about how much you're ready to do to get it. It's about the hard work and to be ready, be ready for the big fights. I feel like confidence is not going to help you in those big matches. It's about staying there and fighting for it."

Data Debrief

Sabalenka (70 per cent, 56-24) is now one of five active players since 2020 to hold a winning percentage of 70 per cent or higher at WTA-1000 events.

Iga Swiatek, Simona Halep, Elena Rybakina and Jessica Pegula are the other players to feature on that list.

Coco Gauff made a flying start to her Madrid Open campaign on Thursday, recording the first double bagel main-draw win of her career as she cruised past Arantxa Rus to reach the round of 32.

Gauff needed just 51 minutes to see off 33-year-old Rus as she booked a meeting with Ukraine's Dayana Yamstremska for Saturday. 

The US Open champion lost just 18 points throughout the match – eight in the opener and 10 in the second set – as she put any doubts over her recent form to bed in emphatic fashion.

Gauff's power proved too much for Rus in the opener, the third seed winning 88 per cent of points behind her first serve and converting three of four break points to go a set up in just 23 minutes.

Rus brought up four break points midway through the second set, but when she failed to convert them, Gauff punished her in ruthless fashion by reeling off another three games then finishing things with a terrific forehand winner. 

Speaking after her win, the American said: "I played really well today. It was just one of those days for me… 6-0 6-0, I've never done that before, I'll probably never do it again."

Data Debrief: Gauff matches Azarenka, Halep feat

Gauff is just the third player to register a 6-0 6-0 win in the women's singles draw at the Madrid Open, following in the footsteps of two former world number ones in Victoria Azarenka and Simona Halep.

The American, who only turned 20 last month, is also the youngest player to double bagel an opponent in any main-draw match on the WTA Tour since Iga Swiatek did so against Karolina Pliskova in the 2021 Italian Open final in Rome. 

Simona Halep has hit back at Caroline Wozniacki after the Dane said she should not have been given a wild card for the Miami Open.

Halep made a quick return to top-level action after the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her doping ban from four years to nine months two weeks ago.

The two-time former grand-slam champion tested positive for the blood-boosting drug Roxadustat at the US Open in 2022 and was handed the long suspension last September.

However, CAS accepted Halep’s explanation that she had unwittingly ingested the substance in a contaminated supplement, with the ruling coming 17 months after she was first provisionally suspended.

There has been a lot of support for the Romanian, who was defeated by Paula Badosa in her first match in Florida on Tuesday, but Wozniacki took a different view speaking to reporters after a 6-1 6-4 win over Clara Burel.

“I’ve always liked Simona,” said Wozniacki, also a former world number one. “We’ve always had a good relationship.

“If someone has tested positive for doping, I understand why a tournament wants a big star in the tournament, but it’s my personal belief, and it’s not a knock on anyone, that I don’t think people should be awarded wild cards afterwards.

“If you want to come back, and it’s been a mistake, I understand, you should work your way up from the bottom.

“Simona’s situation has obviously dragged on for a long time. She got her suspension reduced. It wasn’t a clearance, it was a reduced sentence.

“I just hope for a clean sport. That’s all I want. I want to have good role models for the young generation. It’s a sport that has a lot of money in it, a lot of competitiveness, a lot of competitors. I want a fair fight.”

Halep was less than impressed by Wozniacki’s comments, responding: “Why did she say that?

“I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t cheat. I didn’t dope. Thank you to the tournament for giving me the wild card and have the possibility to play in such a big tournament. It was great to be back.

“Only one person being negative about me is not that important because I have hundreds of people that are giving me love, so I will take that.”

Halep looked like she had never been away as she raced to the first set in just 38 minutes but Spaniard Badosa, who is herself coming back from long-term injury problems, dug in to win 1-6 6-4 6-3.

At her post-match press conference, Halep said: “I missed this. I had emotions, but positive emotions; the crowd supporting me was so nice.

“The level of tennis was pretty good – unexpected for most of the people. I think I did a good job today. I’m happy with my first match coming back. I would rate it as a special day, honestly.”


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The 32-year-old admitted her career would have been over had the four-year ban been upheld but she remained positive the appeal against it would go her way.

“My parents always taught me that good always prevails,” she said.

“I trust it 100 per cent from the first day until the last day that the truth will come out and the decision will be taken in a fair way.

“I knew I’m clean. I knew I didn’t do anything wrong. I believed that it’s impossible to stay four years for something that doesn’t exist.”

Elsewhere, Venus Williams, 43, remains without a win since last August after a 6-3 6-3 defeat by Russian Diana Shnaider, who is 24 years her junior.

Professional Tennis Players Association (PTPA) executive director Ahmad Nassar believes tennis should do more to protect players after Simona Halep was allowed to return to tennis.

Halep was suspended in October 2022 after failing two drug tests following the US Open. The former world number one was initially banned for four years, but a ruling earlier in March by the Court of Arbitration for Sport slashed her suspension to nine months.

The reduced ban means Halep can immediately return to tennis, and the two-time grand-slam winner is set to make her return at the upcoming Miami Open.

When asked whether players in situations like Halep's should receive help to gain back what she has lost during her time away, Nassar told Stats Perform: "Should there be? Absolutely. Will there be? Probably not. For tennis, this is a much broader issue in terms of governance. 

"Think about Simona’s case. Where did this happen, at the US Open? And so you give the Tour the cover to say 'well, it wasn't actually one of our events'. It was, and we didn't admit it. There has to be an answer.

"The net effect is the player gets doubly penalised."

Now 32, Halep will be a wildcard at the Miami Open.

In Nassar's view, that is an opportunity that not every player in a similar situation would be fortuitous enough to receive.

"I don't want to use the word lucky," Nassar explained. "But Simona is unique in the sense that she's already gotten, 24 hours later, a wildcard to Miami, a WTA 1000 event.

"Ninety-nine per cent of players who go through anything like this will not get that. What do they have to do? Well, they have to go play maybe universal tennis events, and then WTA 125s and get back into it. That could take a year, easily.

"Getting back, building your ranking up, getting your points up, getting the money to be able to go back out there. It becomes really overly punitive at that point."

Nassar is hopeful that Halep can return to her top form, which saw her claim French Open and Wimbledon triumphs in 2018 and 2019 respectively.

He added: "What I'll say is this. Athletes who have been unfairly treated often use that as fuel and motivation when they're back. And so I would not be surprised in the least if that was the case.

"But at the same time, I don't want to make light of what Simona and other athletes who go through this type of nightmare have to endure. We definitely wish her all the best."

Nassar also called out some in tennis for their lack of initial support for Halep, continuing: "It's been interesting to see that decision come out.

"It's like everybody is saying 'welcome back' with open arms. And I have to ask myself, where were these people for 17 months?

"The process was not okay. And it's still not okay."

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."

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."

Simona Halep's former coach Darren Cahill has jumped to the Romanian's defence after the former Wimbledon and French Open champion failed a drug test.

Cahill said Halep's "integrity is faultless" and insisted there was "no chance" she would have deliberately or wittingly taken a banned substance.

It was made public on Friday that 31-year-old Halep tested positive for roxadustat while competing at the US Open in August.

Halep, who has been provisionally suspended, said she felt "confused and betrayed" by the news. She has not explained why, or by whom, she senses a betrayal.

She now risks a ban from tennis and faces a battle to clear her name, which she has said she is determined to achieve.

Cahill was Halep's coach when she landed her first grand slam title at Roland Garros in 2018, and he pointed to his experience of an athlete who was meticulous about checking anything she ingested.

He wrote in a statement posted on Instagram: "Firstly, and most importantly, there is NO chance Simona knowingly or purposely took any substance on the banned list. None. Zero.

"She is an athlete that stressed about anything prescribed to her by a medical professional [which was rarely], or about any supplement that she used or considered. Simona wore out the words 'please double check this, triple check this to make sure it’s legal, safe and permitted. If you are not sure, I'm not taking it.'"

Australian Cahill has also worked with players including Lleyton Hewitt, Ana Ivanovic, Andy Murray and Andre Agassi. He rates Halep as a player and person of the highest order.

When they stopped working together in September 2021, Halep thanked Cahill "for making me a better tennis player and a better person".

Cahill wrote on Sunday: "Simona's integrity is faultless, she respects her peers, she loves the game and she always has her feet firmly planted on the ground as a humble, approachable champion.

"Honesty has always been her greatest strength and her biggest weakness. We would often laugh about the fact that she can't act and can't tell a little white lie.

"She wears her mood on her shoulder for the world to see, for good and for bad. That is Simo. What you see is what you get. She built an amazing career and legacy by doing things the hard way. The right way.

"Due process will now follow to reveal answers to many questions. As Simona said, the hardest match of her life starts now. I believe in her. I always have and can honestly say never more than right now on this particular issue. I stand with Simo."

Simona Halep said she felt "confused and betrayed" after being handed a provisional suspension for failing a drug test.

The International Tennis Integrity Agency announced on Friday the 31-year-old had tested positive for roxadustat, a prohibited substance, after providing two samples while competing at the US Open in August.

She was notified of a rule violation on October 7 and now faces a fight to avoid a ban from the sport.

In a statement, the ITIA said: "While provisionally suspended, the player is ineligible to compete in or attend any sanctioned tennis event organised by the governing bodies of the sport."

Swiftly responding, former French Open and Wimbledon champion Halep denied all knowledge of taking the substance and said the sanction was the "biggest shock" of her life.

"Today begins the hardest match of my life: a fight for the truth," she posted on social media.

"I have been notified that I tested positive for a substance called roxadustat in an extremely low quantity, which came as the biggest shock of my life.

"Throughout my whole career, the idea of cheating never even crossed my mind once, as it is totally against all the values I have been educated with. Facing such an unfair situation, I feel completely confused and betrayed.

"I will fight until the end to prove that I never knowingly took any prohibited substance and I have faith that sooner or later, the truth will come out.

"It's not about the titles or the money. It's about honour, and the love story I have developed with the game of tennis over the last 25 years."

The 31-year-old former world number one announced in September she would miss the rest of the season after undergoing nose surgery, with it unclear how long her recovery would take.

Simona Halep has announced her season is over after undergoing nose surgery to address problems with her breathing.

Working with Serena Williams' former coach Patrick Mouratoglou, Halep enjoyed a promising 2022 following an injury-hit 2021 campaign, reaching the semi-finals at Wimbledon and moving up to ninth in the WTA rankings.

However, the two-time major champion has struggled since winning the Canadian Open last month, losing in the first round at the US Open.

Prior to her success in Canada, Halep was forced to retire in the second round of the Citi Open after enduring breathing difficulties, and the ongoing problem prompted surgery this week, with Halep disclosing she also elected for cosmetic changes to the nose.

The former world number one will miss the final events on the WTA Tour this year, but she explained the procedure was necessary.

She wrote on Twitter: "As you all know already because I've talked about it many times, in February, I was very close to stopping tennis because I didn't believe I have enough power to come back to top 10. I was going through many anxious moments and I thought it is time to stop cause it is emotionally unhealthy. 

"Then I was lucky to discover Patrick's academy where I felt so much passion that it gave me back my passion for tennis. Thanks to Patrick, I slowly started to believe that I still can play a good level of tennis.

"My goal was very clear: I gave myself one year to get back to top 10. And faster than I ever expected, in only two months, I was back to top 10. Goal achieved!

"But then, when I lost at the US Open, I realised that I'm completely exhausted mentally. Having problems with the breathing for many years already and becoming worse with the time, I decided to follow the advice of my doctors and do the needed surgery.

"I could never do it earlier because I never found the necessary three months for the recovery, because tennis was always the first priority in my life. But I felt it's the right time to do it and also to do something for myself as a person.

"That is why I did also the aesthetic part, that I wanted to do for a long time as I did not like my nose at all. So I did it, I solved the functional part and the aesthetic part.

"I don't know how long the recovery will take, for the moment I am not thinking about anything but recovery. What is sure, is that this year I won't be able to compete in any official tournament anymore.

"My 2022 season is over. 2022, you have been an interesting year full of everything! See you on court, 2023! I feel I still have a lot to do on a tennis court and still have some goals."


Ukrainian qualifier Daria Snigur dedicated her shock victory over Simona Halep in the opening round of the US Open to the people in her war-torn country.

The world number 124 marked her debut in the main draw of a major with a 6-2 0-6 6-4 win at Flushing Meadows on Monday.

Snigur is the lowest-ranked player to win a grand slam match against Halep – one of the favourites for the title – since Maria Sharapova at the same tournament in 2017.

She is also the first female qualifier to win a US Open match against a top-10 seed since Johanna Konta eliminated Garbine Muguruza seven years ago.


Making Snigur's achievement all the more incredible is that the 20-year-old's training base in Kyiv was bombed by Russia, forcing her to instead prepare for the event in Riga.

Reflecting on the biggest win of her burgeoning career, a tearful Snigur said: "This is a victory for Ukraine, for all Ukrainian people, for my family, for my team.

"The situation is bad, of course. I try to do the best for Ukraine, I try to support my country.

"It's not so easy because the war is continuing. Sometimes it's impossible to play but I try to do my best because I want to live in Ukraine.

"I have to say thanks to Simona for this incredible match. I want to thank all the fans who watched our match today."

Two-time major champion Halep has lost just three of her past 19 first-round matches in grand slams, though each of those have come at the US Open.

Snigur will now face Rebecca Marino, who defeated Magdalena Frech in straight sets to advance to the second round.

Simona Halep was the first big casualty at the US Open when she was sensationally beaten by qualifier Daria Snigur on day one.

Halep arrived at Flushing Meadows as one of the favourites to win the title after she was crowned Canadian Open champion this month.

The two-time grand slam champion fell at the first hurdle, though, as Ukrainian Snigur consigned her to a stunning 6-2 0-6 6-4 defeat on Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Making her first appearance in the main draw at a major, the unheralded 20-year-old was rewarded for a positive approach, winning eight out of 12 points at the net and breaking five times.

Halep swept the world number 124 aside in the second set, but the outsider claimed the upper hand with break in the first game of the decider and went on to open up a 5-1 lead.

The former world number one showed her fighting spirit to hang in there, reducing the deficit to 5-4, but Snigur demonstrated nerves of steel to serve out the match and looked as shocked as anyone after sealing her place in the second round in New York.

Halep paid the price for 30 unforced errors, crashing out after a run to the semi-final in the last major at Wimbledon.

Simona Halep secured victory against Beatriz Haddad Maia in the Canada Open final on Sunday, though was given a tougher test than she had otherwise experienced throughout the tournament.

The Romanian was a 6-3 2-6 6-3 victor, dropping a set for only the second time in the week, but standing firm in the clash that clocked in at over two hours.

That meant records for Haddad Maia, who has played the most WTA-level matches with three sets in 2022 (20) and spent over 12-and-a-half hours on the court at the Canada Open in 2022, more than any other player in a single WTA tournament this year.

Wimbledon semi-finalist Halep proved to be a step too far for the Brazilian, however, with the win marking her most significant honour since winning in Rome in 2020.

It was far from a vintage performance from the 30-year-old, who had nine double-faults in the match compared to Haddad Maia's two and left the door open for the South American - who was vying for victory in her first ever WTA 1000 event.

Halep had already clinched a return to the world top 10 by reaching the final in Toronto, the first time since her 373-week stint ended just over a week ago - which led to admissions that she considered calling it quits amid her decline.

A valiant comeback in 2022 has been one of the major stories of the calendar year though and, on the back of victory in Canada and a semi-final march at Wimbledon, will have high hopes for the U.S. Open.

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