Maria Sharapova to make her return from doping ban

On March 7, 2016, Maria Sharapova revealed that she had failed a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open, which she described as the result of an oversight. She admitted to testing positive for meldonium, an anti-ischemic drug usually prescribed for heart conditions, that was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s banned substances list on January 1, 2016.She was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) from playing tennis with effect from March 12, 2016, while her 2-year ban began from 26 January, 2016.

She had been taking the drug to treat magnesium deficiency, an irregular EKG and family history of diabetes, and indicated that she had not read an email informing her that meldonium had been banned for use in sport. Mildronate’s addition was outlined on a WADA and United States Anti-Doping Agency summary document and it has been reported that all tennis players were warned five times that it was due to be banned, to which the 5-time Grand Slam champion replied, expressing denial about missing the warnings, which read as follows:

“That’s a distortion of the actual “communications” which were provided or simply posted onto a webpage. I make no excuses for not knowing about the ban. The other “communications”? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts (many of them technical, in small print). I didn’t take the medicine every day. I took it the way my doctor recommended. I take it and I took it in the low doses recommended. I’m proud of how I have played the game. I have been honest and upfront. I won’t pretend to be injured so I can hide the truth about my testing.

The tennis star recently said that she didn’t know what meldonium was until testing positive in January 2016 at the Australian Open for the recently banned substance. As the 29-year-old (soon to be 30 this month) five-time Grand Slam champion told the Times of London, “I had to Google it to find out. To me, it was Mildronate.” Mildronate is the trade name for meldonium,

While meldonium is not licensed in the US, Sharapova’s country of residence, it is used legally in Russia, the country to which Maria represents in tennis. The drug’s inventor Ivars Kalvinš said that he didn’t think taking it should be construed as “doping”, but he also said that it “optimises the use of oxygen”. Don Catlin, a long-time anti-doping expert and the scientific director of the Banned Substances Control Group (BSCG) stated that “There’s really no evidence that there’s any performance enhancement from meldonium – Zero percent.”

What the fellow players had to say…

Most fellow tennis players reacted negatively to her announcement, with almost no support or sympathy in general for Sharapova. John McEnroe and Pat Cash said they found it hard to believe her. Jennifer Capriati posted on Twitter that she should be stripped of her 35 professional titles. Chris Evert expressed her surprise at the lack of support in tennis for Sharapova, noting that she “[had] always isolated herself from the rest of the tennis world, from the players”. Serena Williams expressed surprise at Sharapova’s announcement and asked tennis officials not to extend any special treatment towards her. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray all publicly condemned Sharapova and argued that she deserved to be punished on the basis that she failed the doping test, with Murray adding that “Taking a drug you don’t necessarily need because it’s legal is wrong” and Federer stating that “Whether it’s intentional or not, I don’t see too much difference. You must be 100 percent about what you are taking”. Sharapova’s case prompted Federer to urge the tennis federation to conduct more anti-doping tests. Novak Djokovic said that he felt sorry for her, but that she must still be ready for punishment. Victoria Azarenka and Dominika Cibulkova were far less supportive, with Cibulkova adding that she didn’t feel sorry at all for Sharapova and didn’t miss having her on the tour, describing her as “a totally unlikeable person; arrogant, conceited, and cold”. The Russian Tennis Federation strongly defended Sharapova, describing the positive drug test as “nonsense” and adding that they expected Sharapova to be available for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

The brands having endorsement deals with her, withdrew their contracts with her, which included Nike, TAG Heuer etc. She was also suspended from her from her role as a goodwill ambassador for the UN Development Program on March 16, while expressing thanks for her support of their work over the previous nine years. Also, on April 12, WADA intimated that athletes who tested positive for meldonium before March 1 could avoid bans, but the International Tennis Federation said that Sharapova’s case would proceed.

On 8 June, 2016, ITF announced their decision of a two-year suspension for Sharapova, the tribunal unanimously concluded that what she did was not intentional. They found that she did not seek treatment from her doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. She revealed all of it in her Facebook post which read,

By 13th June, 2016, it was announced by the CAS, Lausanne, that the appeal ruling in her case was set for October first week. Further, following the first week of October, the decision was issued on 4th October, and her ban was reduced from 2 years to 15 months, which meant she could be back on the tour from 26th April, 2017.

Sharapova was invited by the Rio Olympics 2016 gold medallist, Monica Puig, to Puerto Rico, to play an exhibition match. By the beginning of the new year, 2017, Maria had planned on making a comeback in Stuttgart, where she has been a champion thrice. In January, she was handed a wild-card for Stuttgart, for Madrid in February, and for Rome in March, which was also, objected by other fellow players.

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