‘8 is better’: Williams seizes on rival’s tennis ban

Tennis legend Serena Williams has seemingly made a pitch for an eighth Wimbledon title after one of her key rivals copped a four-year ban.

Two-time grand slam champion Simona Halep was banned by the International Tennis Integrity Agency on two separate anti-doping rule violations on Tuesday.

The former Wimbledon and French Open champion has said she will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. But that didn’t stop Williams – who lost to Halep in the 2019 Wimbledon final while going for her eighth title at the All England Club – delivering a cryptic public response.

“8 is a better number,” she wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Wednesday (Australian time).

Williams also liked a tweet from retired tennis player Nicole Gibbs, who wrote: “Such a disappointment when you discover like half of your heroes from your sports days were cheating. Just so so frustrating and makes sports so dumb – not a fair fight and makes you wonder how many are skating by unnoticed (I think probably a lot)”.

Halep, 31, had been provisionally suspended since October 2022 after testing positive for a banned blood-booster at the US Open last year. The ban will thus run to October 2026.

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

Halep had blamed a contaminated supplement for the presence of traces of the anaemia drug.

“I am continuing to train and do everything in my power to clear my name of these false allegations and return to the court,” the Romanian said in a statement.

She said she also will “pursue all legal remedies against the supplement company in question.”

“The tribunal accepted Halep’s argument that she 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.”

Halep said she had adjusted her nutritional supplements ahead of the hard court season last year following recommendations from “my trusted team and physiotherapist”.

“None of the listed ingredients included any prohibited substances. However, we now know – and the tribunal agreed – one of them was contaminated with roxadustat,” she said.

“The second charge related to irregularities in Halep’s Athlete Biological Passport,” the ITIA added.

It said the ABP charge was also upheld as three independent experts were unanimous that “likely doping” explained the irregularities in Halep’s profile.

Halep accused the ITIA of bringing an ABP charge after the expert group learned her identity, saying that two experts changed their opinion in favour of ITIA’s allegations.

“The ITIA relied solely on the opinions of these experts who looked only at my blood parameters – which I’ve maintained for more than 10 years in the same range,” she said.

“This group ignored the fact no prohibited substance has ever been found in my blood or urine samples with the sole exception of one August 29 positive test for roxadustat.”

Karen Moorhouse, CEO, said the ITIA had followed the proper processes in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Code.

-with AAP

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