Tennis

Boris Becker: Maria deserves a second chance

Becker hopes Sharapova will be welcomed by fellow pros on her return to the game

Boris Becker believes Maria Sharapova has paid her dues and deserves a second chance, when she returns to tennis in April at the end of her 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, failed a dope test for the drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open and was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Her ban was then cut by nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last October, meaning the Russian is free to return from April 26.

Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion, said it was right that Sharapova was allowed to return to the sport and hopes her comeback will not cause problems in the locker room.

"In principle, I am all for a second chance," Becker told Reuters at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco.

"She (Sharapova) paid her dues, she was suspended for quite a long time. I don't know about the reaction of the other players, it's up to them.

CLEAN SPORT

"Everyone has her own choice. Hopefully, the atmosphere (inside the locker room) will be good.

"We can move on and have good women's champions."

Sharapova, 29, had called the ITF's original ruling "unfairly harsh" because she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances only at the start of last year, after mounting evidence it boosted blood flow and enhanced performance.

The CAS cut Sharapova's suspension, but said she "bore some degree of fault" by relying on agent Max Eisenbud to check the banned list for changes and failing to ensure he had done so.

Despite the Russian's suspension, Becker feels tennis is a clean sport and that the testing system works.

"Most tennis players are responsible," said Becker, who coached current world No. 2 Novak Djokovic for three years until the pair split last December.

If you see in the men's side, there is no one inside the top 100 (who isn't clean) and in the women's side - Maria is the exception - all of them are clean.

"Tennis is an Olympic sport, so the tests are very stringent and strong, and the penalties are severe.

"The system works. Maybe it speaks volumes of the system because a high-profile player like Sharapova was caught."

Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal's career-long coaching relationship with his uncle Toni Nadal will end this year.

"The decision has been mine," said Toni, while insisting he will remain in his role for the rest of the 2017 season.

Toni, 55, cited the demands of travelling on Tour as the reason for the change and will oversee coaching at Rafael's tennis academy on his home island of Mallorca.

"I understand that my role will be in the academy," he said.

"I have travelled around the world and, for a while now, when I have to travel it is hard.

"I have three children. The academy has given me a reason to enjoy being in Mallorca."

Former world No. 1 Carlos Moya will take over as Rafa's main coach next year, having joined his team last December. - WIRE SERVICES

tennisMaria Sharapova