Maria Sharapova faces a ban of up to four years from tennis after an astonishing admission last night that she had failed a drug test at this year’s Australian Open. Her voice quavering, the Russian, dressed from head to toe in black, used a hastily convened press conference here in Los Angeles to disclose that she had tested positive for meldonium, a medication normally used to treat heart conditions.
The repercussions are likely to be savage for an athlete who earned $23 million (£16.1 million) last year in endorsements alone. Sharapova will incur up to a four-year ban from tennis if she is found to have taken meldonium intentionally to improve her performance, and two years if the authorities deem it was unintentional. For the wealthiest female athlete on the planet, it ¬represents a staggering fall from grace. Sharapova was the darling of women’s tennis, by a distance its most marketable property. Now, at the age of 28, the young woman who exploded to prominence with her 2004 Wimbledon triumph finds herself engulfed in ignominy.
Her provisional ban will start on March 12. John Haggerty, Sharapova’s lawyer, said that she would not fight it by asking for the B sample to be tested. The decision means there is little chance of her competing at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. She insisted that her use of the drug was purely ¬medicinal, but WADA’s rationale for including meldonium on the banned list was unambiguous. “Meldonium was added because of evidence of its use by athletes for the intention of enhancing performance,” the organisation said.
It was one of the most grimly startling moments tennis had known. Ever since Sharapova’s ¬advisors had served notice that she would be making a “major ¬announcement” at noon California time, conjecture had mounted that the five-time major champion would be confirming her intention to retire after playing only three tournaments in the past eight months. When the ballroom at the LA Hotel Downtown was fitted out with a floor-to-ceiling curtain, ¬murmurs bubbled that Sharapova, ever the corporate creature, was simply about to unveil her latest range of sweets.
But the presence in the room of Sharapova’s parents, Yuri and ¬Yelena, hinted that something more dramatic was afoot. So did the fact that she slunk to the lectern in a black designer trouser suit, a far cry from her usual vibrant ensembles.The bleakness of her words were more than a match for her dour choice of fashion. “I have let my fans down, I have let my sport down,” she said, mournfully. “I face consequences.”
The International Tennis Federation disclosed that the positive test took place on the day of Sharapova’s last match, a quarter-final defeat to Serena Williams at the Australian Open. Sharapova explained that she had taken the drug for a ¬combination of reasons, including a ¬magnesium deficiency, an irregular electrocardiogram result, and a family history of diabetes. “It made me healthy – that’s why I continued to take it.” In what was the most chastening two-minute address of her life, Sharapova said: “A few days ago I received a letter from the ITF, saying that I had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. I take full responsibility. I have made a huge mistake.”
Sharapova disclosed that she had been taking the drug, manufactured in Latvia, for the past 10 years, after receiving a prescription from her family doctor. She claimed that she was unaware of its banned ¬status until she read the ¬correspondence about her failed test in Melbourne. The reaction from the Women’s Tennis Association was swift and sombre.
Source: The Telegraph