Tennis: Sharapova slams ITF, suggests panel bias

Maria Sharapova is set to return to action in April. But it remains to be seen if she will feature in the May-June French Open.
Maria Sharapova is set to return to action in April. But it remains to be seen if she will feature in the May-June French Open.

Former world No. 1 claims tennis' governing body wanted to make an example of her

LONDON • Maria Sharapova has suggested the International Tennis Federation (ITF) was keen to make an example of her.

The sport's governing body's two-year doping ban, imposed following the Russian star's positive test for the heart-boosting drug meldonium in January, was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday.

The 29-year-old former Wimbledon champion and world No. 1, in her first interview since the CAS' ruling, said: "I got a 24-month suspension but they (ITF) wanted four years for me. I went through the ITF hearing, which was in front of an arbitration panel which was chosen by the ITF.

"I am at a hearing (in London) knowing the people I am speaking to were chosen by the people I am actually in a fight with. They call that neutral? That is not neutral. CAS is neutral and this is what CAS has awarded to me."

Asked by interviewer Charlie Rose of the US television station PBS if she thought the ITF was trying to make an example of her, the five-time Grand Slam champion replied: "I never wanted to believe that but I am starting to think that."

In the ruling that accompanied its decision, the CAS stated Sharapova's degree of fault fell short of the ITF's description of "significant" but the player was "still the sole author of her own misfortune" in carrying on taking meldonium after the drug had been added to the World Anti-Doping agency's (Wada) banned list.

BEING MADE AN EXAMPLE OF

I never wanted to believe that but I am starting to think that.

MARIA SHARAPOVA, the five-time Grand Slam champion, in response to interviewer Charlie Rose when asked if she thought the ITF was trying to make an example of her when deciding on the length of her doping ban.

Meldonium was added at the start of the year, having been on Wada's monitoring list for all of last year and athletes were warned several times by e-mail it was about to be prohibited, e-mails the Russian did not read.

Sharapova's lawyer, John Haggerty, described the CAS' ruling as a "stunning repudiation of the ITF", while in her social media accounts, Sharapova said she was "counting the days until I can return to the court".

Reflecting on the case, she said: "When I first started taking it, I took it under my doctor's orders and that's how I kept taking it for years. I became comfortable with the fact it was just natural for me to take something that was completely legal."

She told Rose she had gained a different perspective during her enforced absence.

"I have not thought about my game in a while," she said. "I have not been home that much, and have travelled, done things I did not have the opportunity to do in a time where I did not know where my future would be.

"I have been training in a different way, not for a tournament to get back in a few months, I was just training for myself and it felt good."

She will be free to return to competition on April 26 next year and theoretically her first tournament back could be the French Open. But she may need to accumulate ranking points quickly to qualify for Roland Garros and Wimbledon, unless she is handed wild cards.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Sharapova slams ITF, suggests panel bias'. Print Edition | Subscribe