Tennis star Sharapova faces suspension after failing drug test

admin   •   March 8, 2016   •   2197

Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conferencein Los Angeles, Califonia, March 7, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conferencein Los Angeles, Califonia, March 7, 2016. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in sports, said on Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she has been taking for 10 years for health issues.

The 28-year-old Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.

She is the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and was only banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1.

“I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down,” said Sharapova, a teenage tennis prodigy who became the third-youngest Wimbledon champion. “I take full responsibility for it.”

“I know that with this I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way. I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game,” former world No.1 Sharapova told a news conference in a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

The ITF’s anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test, but that ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as for first-time offences or if the player shows no significant fault or negligence. If a player bears no fault or negligence, there is no suspension.

According to Forbes, she earned $29.5 million in 2015, mostly from endorsements.

Sharapova said her family doctor had been giving her mildronate, which is also called meldonium, for 10 years after she frequently became sick, had irregular EKG results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

“It is very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA’s banned list and I had been legally taking the medicine. But on January the first, the rules have changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance.”

The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, declined to comment until ITF issues a final decision.

Meldonium is used to treat chest pain and heart attacks among other conditions, but some researchers have linked it to increased athletic performance and endurance. It is listed by WADA among its prohibited metabolic modulators, along with insulin, and some researchers say it can also help recovery.

It is not approved in the United States but is available in Russia, Latvia and other countries in that region. Over the past month, Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov, Russian figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova and Ethiopia-born athletes Endeshaw Negesse and Abeba Aregawi and Ukraine biathletes Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko have all tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova is the most prominent tennis player to test positive for a banned substance in recent years.

Croatia’s Marin Cilic was banned for nine months in 2013 after testing positive for a prohibited stimulant, though the suspension was cut to four months on appeal.

Former No. 1 Swiss player Martina Hingis retired after receiving a two-year suspension for a positive cocaine test in 2007, though she denied taking the drug.

Last year, the sport banned U.S. player Wayne Odesnik for 15 years after his second doping violation, testing positive for steroids and other banned substances.

Sharapova is the biggest name in sport to test positive since New York Yankees baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez was banned for a year in 2013 after using performance-enhancing drugs and American cyclist Lance Armstrong was banned for life from racing in 2012 after a U.S. Anti-Doping investigation.

Sharapova, one of the most popular figures in global sports, has long been a favorite with her sponsors. Cosmetics maker Avon Products Inc (AVP.N) declined to comment on its endorsements. Nike Inc (NKE.N), the world’s largest footwear maker and another sponsor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Steve Simon, CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association, said in a statement he was saddened to hear the news.

“Maria (Sharapova) is a leader and I have always known her to be a woman of great integrity,” he said. “Nevertheless, as Maria acknowledged, it is every player’s responsibility to know what they put in their body and to know if it is permissible. The WTA will support the decisions reached through this process.”

The news came a day after Sharapova’s management team said she was going to make a “major announcement,” which had many speculating that she was going to announce her retirement from professional tennis.

Sharapova, who has struggled with a series of injuries in recent years, has not competed since she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January.

Renowned for her never-say-die approach, a gritty baseline game and high-decibel shrieking, Sharapova at 17 became the first Russian woman to win Wimbledon when she beat Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the 2004 final.

That victory also made her the third-youngest Wimbledon champion, behind only Lottie Dod and Martina Hingis, and the fourth-youngest grand slam winner in the open era after Hingis, Monica Seles and Tracy Austin.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Cornet forgiving but double standards remain over shirt changing

admin   •   August 31, 2018

 

Alize Cornet | Reuters

Women and men may receive equal pay for work at Grand Slams but a double standard that surfaced at the U.S. Open when Alize Cornet was slapped with a code violation for changing her shirt on the court continued to spark outrage over equality.

The United States Tennis Association (USTA) was in full damage control mode defusing a controversy that erupted on Tuesday after the Frenchwoman noticed she had put her shirt on backwards off the court during a heat break.

When she realized her mistake, Cornet walked towards the back of the court pulling off her top, briefly exposing her sports bra, before slipping it back on the right way round and drawing a code violation from umpire Christian Rask.

The decision to penalize Cornet triggered a social media storm with many people labeling the umpire’s decision as sexist.

Male players frequently change or remove their shirts between games and sometimes sit shirtless for extended periods of time in their chairs during changeovers.

Cornet said she was surprised to wake up on Wednesday to a full-blown controversy and attempted to downplay the incident.

While Cornet accepted the incident with good humor and grace others were not so quick to forgive.

Realizing it had stepped on a public relations landmine, the USTA was quick to issue a statement saying the code violation was wrong while the WTA leaped to Cornet’s defense, labeling the penalty unfair. — Reuters

‘Cheater’ Sharapova should not be allowed to play again: Bouchard

UNTV News   •   April 27, 2017

Tennis – WTA Stuttgart Tennis Grand Prix – Maria Sharapova of Russia v Roberta Vinci of Italy – Stuttgart, Germany – 26/4/17. Maria Sharapova of Russia in action. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has lashed out at the WTA for giving Maria Sharapova the chance to compete in tournaments after serving a 15-month doping ban and said the Russian is a “cheater” who should never be allowed to play again.

Sharapova beat Italian Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Grand Prix on Wednesday after receiving a controversial wild card for the tournament, having lost all her ranking points in the wake of her suspension.

Sharapova was banned for two years after testing positive at the 2016 Australian Open for meldonium, a medication the former world number one had been taking within the rules but which was then reclassified as a banned drug.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her ban to 15 months, while finding Sharapova was not an “intentional doper” but “bore some degree of fault” for relying on her agent to check the prohibited list for changes and failing to ensure he had done so.

Bouchard, a 2014 Wimbledon finalist, told the Istanbul-based TRT World in an interview that a bad example had been set.

“She’s a cheater and … I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again,” she said.

“It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: ‘cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms’.

“I don’t think that’s right and (Sharapova is) definitely not someone I can say I look up to any more.”

Sharapova, who faces Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova in the second round in Stuttgart later on Thursday, has also received invitations to play in Madrid and Rome and will find out in May whether she will be given a wild card for the French Open.

(Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

Tennis: All eyes on Stuttgart as Sharapova poised for return

UNTV News   •   April 26, 2017

FILE PHOTO: Russia’s Maria Sharapova celebrates after winning her fourth round match against Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic at the Australian Open tennis tournament at Melbourne Park, Australia, January 24, 2016. REUTERS/THOMAS PETER

Not much fazes Roberta Vinci after 16 years on Tour but the maelstrom swirling around her opening match in Stuttgart against Maria Sharapova will test even the Italian’s vast experience.

Her 946th singles might ordinarily have been one to chalk off and forget about but standing over the other side of the net on Wednesday will be the former world number one on her return from a 15-month doping ban.

Whatever else is happening on any other tennis court in the world will become irrelevant as Russian multi-millionaire Sharapova, who turned 30 last week, resumes a career that made her the world’s richest sportswoman.

Debate still rages about Sharapova’s crime and punishment.

While some say the five-times grand slam champion, initially banned for two years after testing positive for Meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, has done her time some fellow players are angry the red carpet is being rolled out.

With no ranking after such a long period without swinging her racket in anger, Sharapova could have been forced to work her way back from the lower rungs of the tennis ladder.

Instead, with tournament chiefs and sponsors well aware of her ticket-selling appeal she has been handed wildcards into the claycourt events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

It is not an arrangement Vinci approves of. “My personal opinion is (I do) not agree about wild cards… about Rome, about other tournaments,” she said in a press conference at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart.

“She is a great player – I don’t have nothing against her. She made her mistakes for sure. She can return to play, but without wild cards. I know (Sharapova) is important for the WTA, for tennis, for everything. She is a great person, a great champion. My personal opinion is this.”

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska have also cried foul, believing a player returning from a doping ban should have to do it the hard way.

Sharapova, whose defense was that she had not realized Meldonium had been added to a list of banned substances at the start of 2016, insisted the substance is as common as aspirin in Russia where it is known as Mildronate.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) agreed that Sharapova was not an intentional doper shortened her ban from two years to 15 months.

While admitting her mistake, Sharapova has hardly been full of contrition and has criticized the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for failing to notify her that Meldonium, a medication she said she had used for a number of years to treat health issues, had indeed been flagged up by WADA as ‘performance enhancing’.

Only last week Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud stoked the fires by saying the likes of Wozniacki and Radwanska were “journeyman” players hoping to benefit from Sharapova’s exclusion.

Sharapova’s prospective second-round clash in Stuttgart against Poland’s Radwanska could be an awkward encounter.

A decision is expected soon on whether the French Tennis Federation (FFT) will fast-track the 2012 and 2014 Roland Garros champion into the French Open draw. Her only other route is to win the Stuttgart title so that she can boost her ranking to enter French Open qualifying.

What adds intrigue to Sharapova’s return is that it comes at a time with the WTA Tour reeling from the news that world number one and 23-times major champion Serena Williams will not play again this year after announcing she is pregnant.

With twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova recovering from being stabbed, former number one Victoria Azarenka still to return from childbirth the cupboard looks a little bare when it comes to headline acts.

So while Sharapova’s might get a lukewarm welcome in the locker room there is no question the money men will welcome her back with open arms, not least Porsche.

The German sports car giant is the lead partner of the Stuttgart event and also sponsor Sharapova.  — By Martyn Herman | LONDON

(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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