Maria Sharapova was suspended Wednesday for two years for failing a drug test, labeled “the sole author of her own misfortune” because she hid regular pre-match use of a newly banned substance from anti-doping authorities and members of her own entourage.
The 2012 Olympic silver medalist said she would appeal what she called “an unfairly harsh” punishment to the Court for Arbitration for Sport, a ban that would keep her out of the Rio Games in August.
A reaction was posted to Sharapova’s Facebook account minutes after the two-year-ban announcement.
The ban, handed down by a three-person Tennis Anti-Doping Program tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation, is backdated to Jan. 26, when Sharapova last played. The full ruling is here.
She tested positive for meldonium that day after losing to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals. The panel said various elements of Sharapova’s case “inevitably lead to the conclusion” that she took the substance “for the purpose of enhancing her performance.”
Sharapova, who faced up to a four-year suspension, loses all ranking points and prize money she earned in Melbourne.
More significantly, if her suspension withstands an appeal and runs through Jan. 25, 2018, the 29-year-old Russian will wind up missing eight Grand Slam tournaments during what might have been prime competitive years.
It certainly throws into doubt the on-court future of a former No. 1-ranked player and owner of five Grand Slam titles who is one of the most well-known and — thanks to a wide array of endorsements — highest-earning athletes in the world.
She is one of 10 women in tennis history with a career Grand Slam — at least one title from each of the sport’s four most important tournaments. Sharapova was the 2004 Wimbledon champion at age 17; No. 1 in the rankings at 18; U.S. Open champion at 19; Australian Open champion at 20. An operation to her right shoulder in 2008 took her off the tour for months, and her ranking dropped outside the top 100. But she worked her way back, and in 2012, won the French Open, then added a second title in Paris two years later.
Now comes a dark chapter to the story of someone who was 9 years old when her father moved her from Russia to Florida to pursue a tennis career.
Sharapova was provisionally suspended in early March; shortly afterward, she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she had failed a doping test for meldonium in January. She did not mention, as the panel’s 33-page ruling does, that she also failed an out-of-competition test for the same drug in February.
But she claimed the ITF had asked the tribunal to impose a four-year ban, adding it “spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules”.
The ITF will not appeal against the tribunal’s decision.
However, the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) said it would “review the decision, including its reasoning” and decide whether to appeal.
It also suggested athletes who tested positive before 1 March could avoid bans, provided they had stopped taking it before 1 January.
However, Maria Sharapova had already admitted she continued taking the substance past that date, saying she was unaware it had been added to the banned list as she knew it by another name – mildronate.
In reaching its verdict, the ITF recognised Maria Sharapova had not intentionally broken anti-doping rules, as she did not know that mildronate contained a banned substance from January of this year.
But the federation said the Russian was “the sole author of her own misfortune”, as she had “failed to take any steps to check whether continued use of the medicine was permissible”.
Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki described Sharapova’s case as a “sad situation”.
“Tennis has a really strong anti-drug policy in place and it helps the sport really keep clean,” the 25-year-old told BBC Sport.
“It’s always a sad situation when someone is getting banned or you have heard they have failed a drug test, not only for Maria but for tennis in general.”
As the ITF report damningly noted, “Whatever the position may have been in 2006, there was in 2016 no diagnosis and no therapeutic advice supporting the continuing use of (meldonium). If she had believed that there was a continuing medical need to use (meldonium) then she would have consulted a medical practitioner.
“The manner of its use, on match days and when undertaking intensive training, is only consistent with an intention to boost her energy levels. It may be that she genuinely believed that (meldonium) had some general beneficial effect on her health but the manner in which the medication was taken, its concealment from the anti-doping authorities, her failure to disclose it even to her own team and the lack of any medical justification must inevitably lead to the conclusion that she took (meldonium) for the purpose of enhancing her performance.”
Maria Sharapova, five-time Grand Slam champion. And now, sadly, world-class cheater.