Halep falls to Badosa in return from doping ban as Sabalenka waits

Halep falls to Badosa in return from doping ban as Sabalenka waits


Paula Badosa beat Simona Halep1-6 6-4 6-3 in the Miami Open on Tuesday.

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MIAMI (Reuters) - Paula Badosa spoiled Simona Halep's return from a doping ban, fighting back to claim a gritty 1-6 6-4 6-3 win on Tuesday (Mar 19) to move into the second round of the Miami Open and set up what is sure to be an emotion-packed match with Aryna Sabalenka.

Halep had been the player in the spotlight coming into Miami accepting a wild card when her four-year suspension was cut to nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

But the focus quickly shifted to Sabalenka after the world number two's long-time boyfriend, Belarusian former pro ice hockey player Konstantin Koltsov, died in what police said on Tuesday was an "apparent suicide".

If Badosa was having a tough time dealing with Halep it will be nothing compared to the mental challenge she will confront in her next match on Thursday or Friday when she faces Sabalenka, someone she calls her best friend.

Badosa said she has talked several times with Sabalenka during the last horrific 24 hours and just hopes her friend can find the strength from somewhere when she steps on court.

"It's not an easy challenge, it's a mental one," said Badosa. "She's one of my best friends.

"Of course, I know what she's going through.

"Yesterday I spoke with her a lot of time, this morning the same, so I know what she's going through.

"I know the entire situation, what is happening.

"That for me is a little bit shocking also to go through that because at the end she's my best friend and I don't want her to suffer."


Playing her first match since a first round loss at the 2022 US Open, Halep displayed few signs of rust against the 80th ranked Spaniard in a rampaging opening set that saw her break a misfiring Badosa three times as a small but excited crowd chanted "Si-Mon-ah. Si-Mon-Ah".

While Halep has won many tournaments, including two grand slams she insisted Tuesday's return will stand out as a special moment in her career.

"It feel really good," said Halep. "I had emotions, positive emotions to see the crowd supporting me was so nice and gave me a lot of energy and the level of tennis was pretty good, unexpected I think, for most of the people.

"It is a special day.

"I would say this day is going to stay very special for me.

"Of course, I have many results in the past, big results but here is something more than tennis, it is something personal."

The 32-year-old Romanian spark plug showed she can still make all the shots and had lost none of her trademark terrier-like determination running down ball after ball.

But 18 months away from competition was always going to exact a toll.

In the second set it was Badosa taking the initiative as Halep began to show the first signs of fatigue and needed her shoulder massaged at a changeover while the Spaniard held steady to level the match.

The third set turned into a dog fight with Badosa again getting the early break to go ahead 2-1 only to have a battling Halep immediately break back.

Badosa would continue to apply pressure and break the Wimbledon and French Open winner a second time, the effort leaving the exhausted Romanian slumped over her racquet at the baseline.

With little in reserve, Halep's resistance crumbled and Badosa moved in for the kill finishing off her opponent with another break.

"I didn't like it at all," said Badosa about getting Halep in the first round. "I'm going to be honest.

"Even if Simona is 10 years without competing, she's still Simona.

"She's a big player. She's won so many titles.

"I think she's going to be back on the top very soon."


The spotlight now shifts back to Sabalenka following her boyfriend's death.

Sabalenka, who has a first round bye, so far has given no indication she plans to withdraw with posts on social media on Tuesday showing her at work under a hot sun on a Hard Rock Stadium practice court.

The Miami-Dade police department confirmed on Tuesday that they had responded to a call at a Miami resort about reports of a man jumping off a balcony.

"At approximately 12:39 a.m., Bal Harbour Police and Fire Rescue were dispatched to the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort in reference to a male that jumped from a balcony," the police said.

"The Miami-Dade Police Department, Homicide Bureau, responded and has taken over the investigation of the apparent suicide of Mr Konstantin Koltsov.

"No foul play is suspected."

The former forward, who was 42, played for the Belarus national team in the 2002 and 2010 Olympics and spent parts of three seasons with the National Hockey League's Pittsburgh Penguins between 2003 and 2006.

Sabalenka and Koltsov were first linked in June 2021, according to People magazine, and she has frequently posted photos of them together on her Instagram account.

While Sabalenka has yet to speak, fellow players have rallied around her.

"I can't even imagine what she's going through right now," said former world number one Caroline Wozniacki after her 6-1 6-4 win over Frenchwoman Clara Burel. "I'm saying that. I'm also tearing up.

"I reached out to her and I told her that I was here if she needed anything.

"I'm here, we're here for her."