Sports

Sharapova tested postive at Australian Open

Tennis rocked as former world No. 1 is suspended after testing postive at Australian Open

In a stunning development, five-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova announced yesterday morning (Singapore time) that she failed a dope test at the Australian Open, and isn't sure what punishment she'll face for her "huge mistake".

The former world No. 1 from Russia said a change in the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) banned list for 2016 led to an inadvertent violation, for which she will be "provisionally suspended" by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). 
US sportswear maker Nike said it was "saddened and surprised" by the news.

"We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues," the company said in a statement.

Hours later, Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer said it would not renew its marketing contract with Sharapova.

Luxury carmaker Porsche, a division of Volkswagen, also said it would suspend her as its brand ambassador.

Forbes reported that she earned US$23 million ($32m) through sponsorship deals last year alone and the doping violation could hit her hard.

Sharapova, 28, tested positive for meldonium, a drug she claimed she had been taking since 2006 but was added to the banned list only this year.

HUGE MISTAKE

"I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it," Sharapova said at a press conference at a downtown Los Angeles hotel, where many journalists had expected her to announce she was retiring from the sport due to injury.

"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down, that I've been playing since the age of four, that I love so deeply," added Sharapova, her voice wavering.

"I know that, with this, I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way - and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The ITF confirmed in a statement that Sharapova had tested positive on Jan 26 and had accepted the finding when she was notified on March 2.

Her lawyer John Haggerty said the positive test could carry a ban of up to four years, but that mitigating circumstances could see a lesser penalty, with many leading sports commentators feeling she could face a one- or two-year ban.

Shamil Tarpishchev, head of the Russian tennis federation, told the TASS news agency he believed Sharapova would still have a chance to play at the Rio Olympics in August.

Sharapova burst onto the international scene when she grunted her way to the Wimbledon crown in 2004. She won the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014.

Her talent, business acumen and blonde looks all combined to make her a marketing juggernaut and the overseer of such successful ventures as her Sugarpova line of candy.

She has 35 WTA singles titles, more than US$36m in career earnings and is currently ranked seventh in the world.

SYMPTOMS

Sharapova said she originally began taking meldonium for a variety of symptoms, including a tendency to become ill often, an irregular electrocardiogram heart test and a family history of diabetes.

Meldonium is used to treat heart trouble, including angina and heart failure.

In adding it to the banned list, Wada said there was evidence it has been used by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.

A string of sports figures have tested positive for it this year, including Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova, Ukrainian biathletes Artem Tyshchenko and Olga Abramova and Ethiopian-born Swede Abebe Aregawi, the 2013 women's 1,500m world champion.

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

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

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

Capriati blasts Maria

PHOTOS: AFP, ACTION IMAGES

Former Grand Slam champion Jennifer Capriati lashed out at Maria Sharapova on Twitter, after the Russian announced she had tested positive for a banned drug at the Australian Open in January.

In a series of tweets that didn't mention Sharapova by name, Capriati said she was "disappointed".

"I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what," Capriati tweeted.

"I had to throw in the towel and suffer.

"I didn't have the high-priced team of (doctors) that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up."

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, said she tested positive for meldonium, a circulation-boosting drug used to treat heart ailments that was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list this year.

Sharapova said she had been taking the drug for health problems on medical advice since 2006 and, through her own negligence, failed to realise it had been banned.

"What's the point of someone taking a heart medicine that helps your heart recover faster unless you have a heart condition?" Capriati said.

"In my opinion (if) it's all true every title should be stripped.

"This is other people's lives as well."

At her induction into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2012, Capriati said she felt injuries had forced her to leave the game sooner than she wanted.

She launched her career at 14 but, after winning Olympic gold at Barcelona in 1992, she was sidetracked by off-court troubles.

She returned to tennis in 1996 and won the first of her three Grand Slams at the Australian Open in 2001, adding the French Open title and another Australian crown before she retired in 2004.

The authorities will now be waiting for Sharapova to present medical records to back her assertion that she took the drug for a decade solely for legitimate therapeutic purposes.

Until and unless that explanation is forthcoming and convincing, other factors will be fair game in discussing and dissecting her case.

Her former coach Nick Bollettieri was sympathetic.

"She said she took these for many, many years and then didn't read the memorandum that came out," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"She said she will accept the consequences, but she hopes and prays that she can be allowed to play again. What else can you say?

"I don't think that Sharapova would continue doing something, especially being in the limelight, if there was something she knew about."

Responding on Twitter, American tennis legend Martina Navratilova said: "Hold your horses everyone - about Maria - I don't have all the facts, I hope it's an honest mistake, stuff was legal as far as I know till 2015." 
- Wire Services.

FORMER PLAYER JAMES BLAKE:

"Wow. Classy of Sharapova to hold a press conference for this and admit making a mistake. Definitely agree that have to be aware though."

FORMER TOP-10 PLAYER AND COACH BRAD GILBERT:

"Still stunned that nobody on Shazza team checked new list from Wada, players are responsible but this is big time oversight on team as well."

AUSTRALIAN PLAYER MATT EBDEN:

"Doesn't look that innocent for Sharapova or whoever else took it, this meldonium stuff but who knows?"

BRITISH OLYMPIC HEPTATHLON BRONZE-MEDALLIST KELLY SOTHERTON:

"I'm pretty sure if this was a track and field athlete, they'd be getting a much rawer deal than Sharapova."

More about meldonium

The drug is used to treat ischemia, a lack of blood flow to parts of the body.

Also known as mildronate, it helps improve circulation to parts of the body, particularly the brain.

The drug is manufactured in Latvia and prescribed to treat heart disease, although it is not approved by US regulators.

The increase in blood flow it produces could improve endurance and recovery time after exercise and the World Anti-Doping Agency moved it from the "monitored" to the "prohibited" drugs list "because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance".

The ban was approved last September and came into effect on Jan 1. - AFP.

Maria Sharapovatennis