INDIAN WELLS (California) • Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal believes that Maria Sharapova deserves to be punished after failing a drug test at this year's Australian Open.
The former women's world No. 1 was found to have taken meldonium - a drug known to increase endurance capabilities - which was prohibited from Jan 1 this year.
The Russian has been provisionally suspended, but Nadal insisted on Wednesday, ahead of his first-round match at the Indian Wells tournament where he is seeded No. 4 , that she "must pay" for failing to take notice of new doping regulations.
The Spaniard said Sharapova deserves to be punished as an example to others.
"It is difficult to imagine that something like this can happen. But mistakes happen," he said. "She should be punished.
"I want to believe it is a mistake for Maria. She didn't want to do it. But obviously it is negligence. She must pay for it."
Nadal, 29, defended his own training methods and vehemently denied ever using a banned substance to gain an advantage or to speed up recovery from injury.
"I have never had the temptation of doing something wrong. I am very far from that, doping," said the 14-time Grand Slam winner, who has been the subject of rumours he had used performance-enhancing drugs.
"I am a completely clean guy. I worked so hard during my career that when I get injured I never take anything (banned) to be back quicker."
He admitted that over the course of his career he has taken advantage of some new treatments, like stem-cell therapy and Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy (often known as blood spinning) for his knee problems.
"I have been open all my career. I never tried to hide nothing that I did," he said. "I did PRP and then I did stem cells... I am not doing, never did, and never going to do something wrong."
Sharapova's positive test was the talk of the locker room as the hard- court tournament at Indian Wells got under way on Wednesday.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said Sharapova had made a "huge mistake" by not paying more attention to what drugs are on the banned list.
"We should all know what we are putting into our body," the Czech said. "It was a huge mistake and she is taking responsibility for it."
The five-time Grand Slam winner could face a ban of up to four years, although her lawyer John Haggerty told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday he believed she can plead mitigating circumstances and receive a lesser punishment.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that this was intentional on Maria's behalf," Haggerty said.
Sharapova, whose on-court prowess and business savvy have brought her an estimated personal fortune of US$200 million (S$276 million), wrote on her Facebook page that she woke up early on Wednesday morning determined to fight through the scandal and eventually continue her career.
"New day, new start," she wrote. "I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so."
Sponsors such as Nike, Porsche and TAG Heuer have halted their relationships with her. But racket company Head intends to extend its contract with the Russian.
Its chief executive officer Johan Eliasch said yesterday that Sharapova, under contract with Head since 2011, had "earned the benefit of the doubt" after making an "honest mistake".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS