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Maria Sharapova Suspended from Tennis for Two Years 

June 8, 2016 — On Sunday tennis reached a pinnacle. Novak Djokovic won Roland Garros, and thus held all four Grand Slams simultaneously. It was a feat last achieved in 1969 by Rod Laver. But today the dizzying heights of accomplishment vanished as news revealed the sport's dark underbelly. Five-time Grand Slam Champion Maria Sharapova had been suspended for two years by an International Tennis Federation tribunal for an unintentional doping violation. 

Sharapova vs Diatchenko RG 20150527 LB 0009-2

Maria Sharapova is shown here during the 2015 French Open. The Russian will be eligible to play at the 2018 Roland Garros, the first Grand Slam available for her after the completion of the suspension: January 25, 2018. Photo credit Leslie Billman tennisclix.com.

Sharapova’s fateful decision to take yet another 500 milligrams of Meldonium, commercially sold as Mildronate, came on January 26 at The Australian Open. For five days and in advance of five matches she’d swallowed that dosage. 

The results of the blood sample following her loss that day against Serena Williams were only revealed by the Russian in an impromptu press conference in early March. She then waited until May 18 and 19 to sit alongside her lawyers in front of the three-man tribunal, which was selected by the ITF. The two-year suspension handed down is retroactive to the date of the test, which means she would be ineligible to play before January 25, 2018, too late to enter that Australian Open. If the tribunal had found that she intentionally used Meldonium, the suspension would have been 4 years.

“I cannot accept an unduly harsh two year suspension,” Sharapova wrote on her Facebook page. 

She will appeal the ruling to The Court of Arbitration in Sport in July, with a quick and binding resolution to come, reports The New York Times

Meldonium was officially banned by the World Anti-Doping Association on January 1, 2016. However its list of prohibited substances, which included Meldonium, had been originally published and circulated on September 26, 2015. 

In addition to the negative test from late January the tribunal reported that WADA detected the drug in her system in another test taken February 2 in Moscow where Sharapova played in a non-WTA event.  

Today around noon the shocking news began trending on Twitter. Close to 20,000 posts rolled on about the ruling, whether she deserved it or not, and expectations about her future in tennis, if indeed she has one. The lovers and haters piped in, as usual. Later in the afternoon over 80,000 posts accumulated. 

Minutes later Sharapova posted her response on her Facebook page … 

Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years – the required suspension for an intentional violation -- and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position. 

While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.

Love, Maria

P.S. My lawyer prepared a short summary of how the ITF process works so I thought I would pass it along to my fans so you too can be aware of what the ITF rules call for.

John Haggerty, Sharapova’s lawyer, posted a document on her Facebook page, as well. It suggested one avenue of their defense, that a “four year suspension would effectively end her career.” If she serves the 2-year suspension, her ranking would be unprotected. 

Sharapova had been taking Meldonium since 2006. The medication was prescribed by her doctor in Russian - the drug is not available in the U. S. - to help the athlete counter frequent illnesses, although the drug is primarily considered a heart medication. 

Her list of prescribed medications plus vitamin and mineral supplementals skyrocketed over the years, reaching to 30 a day. The report says she was overwhelmed by that amount. 

Beginning in 2013, she decided to only take three of those medications: Magneto, Riboxin, and Meldonium. (Magneto and Riboxin are not prohibited by WADA.) Yet she only disclosed this change to her father, Yuri, and her agent, Max Eisenbud, neither of whom are medical experts. And, she did not consult with doctors about the reduction. Finally, she had not listed Meldonium on "doping control forms” since 2014 because she, “only thought it was necessary for substance she took daily,” The New York Times reported. 

These missteps by Sharapova did not bode well with the tribunal. 

Yet the report was not strictly a report, either. Some passages sounded parental, as if they were reprimanding the 29-year-old. In the conclusion of the 33-page document the panel wrote, “She is the sole author of her own misfortune.” This is true, but it does not factor in the mishandling of tests run by WADA prior to the substance’s ban that pertain to the amount of time Meldonium remains in the blood. 

Nike extended its provisional suspension of Sharapova. No holiday or Spring 2017 clothes will be offered from her line. Other sponsoring companies such as Tag Hauer, Porsche, and Cole Hahn, have not announced an extension of their decisions to suspend contractual arrangements announced in early March. 

© Jane Voigt Tennis 2013