LONDON • The gloves have well and truly come off.
After a few days when Maria Sharapova might have thought she was winning over those who doubt her explanation of why she has failed a drug test, France's Kristina Mladenovic said she was speaking for everyone on the tennis tour when she said the Russian's rivals "are saying she's a cheat".
Sharapova, who began a provisional ban on Saturday and faces a lengthy suspension after testing positive for meldonium, has never been the most popular of players with her peers, always eschewing the locker room in favour of a quick getaway.
But, while men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic was among those to express sympathy on a human level for "a friend", Mladenovic let rip.
"All the other players are saying she's a cheat," she told the French newspaper Le Parisien.
She's been taking this drug for 10 years and it's a serious drug. She has played with the rules and thought, 'If it's not banned, then I can take it.'... She can play with words and find a good lawyer but on the principles of the situation, she's wrong.
KRISTINA MLADENOVIC, on Sharapova's positive drug test.
"You sure doubt and think that she didn't deserve all she won until now. That's dreadful, but it's good that it's finally out.
"As far as I am concerned, if I take an aspirin, I worry 10 times about what I do. She's been taking this drug for 10 years and it's a serious drug. She has played with the rules and thought, 'If it's not banned, then I can take it.'
"For me that's very disappointing. I don't like the mentality to be the best by playing with the rules.
"She can play with words and find a good lawyer but on the principles of the situation, she's wrong. She has no excuse that can defend what she's done. For me there's no doubt."
The French player, of Serbian and Bosnian ancestry, added: "She wasn't really liked. I respected her for her career but she wasn't really nice nor polite, let's be honest.
"At least the good news to come out of all of this is that the anti-doping programme is working and that even if you're among the best players, you're going to get caught and it's going to get out."
Tennis great John McEnroe weighed in by saying that he found it hard to believe that Sharapova was unaware she was taking a banned drug.
"Would be hard to believe that no one in her camp, the 25 or 30 people that work for her, or Maria herself had no idea that this happened," he told the Tennis Channel on Saturday.
The seven-time Grand Slam champion noted that at the 1990 Australian Open, he was ejected from a match after he did not realise a rule change that reduced a player's default from four steps to just three.
"Nobody told me, so it is possible that Maria did not know that, though it's extremely doubtful," he said.
Sharapova, 28, is facing a suspension of up to four years by the International Tennis Federation if she is found guilty of deliberately taking the drug to enhance performance. Her legal team argues the dosage was too low to have any benefit.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS