Tennis: WTA players stunned by Maria Sharapova's failed drug test

Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts during a training session prior the Australian Open in Melbourne, on Jan 16, 2016.
Maria Sharapova of Russia reacts during a training session prior the Australian Open in Melbourne, on Jan 16, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

INDIAN WELLS (AFP) - WTA Tour players rocked by Maria Sharapova's admission that she had failed a drug test are now waiting to see what sanction the Russian superstar will face.

Sharapova's positive test for meldonium was the talk of the locker room as the hardcourt tournament at Indian Wells got underway on Wednesday.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she was "shocked" and world No. 3 Agnieszka Radwanska described it as a "sad day for tennis".

Radwanska said she was in the locker room in Indian Wells with a group of WTA players getting ready train for this week's tournament in southern California when she heard the news on Monday.

"It is a sad day for tennis," she said on Wednesday. "Nobody expected that. We are all waiting to see what they are going to do about it."


Czech Kvitova said Sharapova has 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," she said. "It was a huge mistake and she is taking responsibility for it."

Sharapova revealed on Monday that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, saying she had taken the circulation-boosting drug used to treat heart ailments since 2006, but had not spotted that it was added to the banned list as of Jan 1.

Sponsors of the world's highest-earning sportswoman immediately distanced themselves, with Nike, Porsche and TAG Heuer all halting their relationships with the former world No. 1.

The five-time Grand Slam winner could face a ban of up to four years, although her lawyer John J. Haggerty told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that 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$277 million), wrote on her Facebook page that she woke up early on Wednesday morning determined to fight through the scandal and eventually continue her storied career.

"New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average," she wrote. "Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so.

"I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will."

Spain's Rafael Nadal, who has won 14 Grand Slam titles, said Sharapova's positive test is a black eye on the sport.

"It is terrible news for our sport," he said. "It is terrible because our sport must be clean and look clean.

"The good news is we have a good anti-doping programme."

The majority of the players who spoke to reporters on Wednesday chose their words carefully when speaking about Sharapova, most expressing shock but adding that it is up to the individual to check which drugs are on the banned substance list.

The players were speaking at the tournament in the California desert which which brings together the top players from both the women's and men's tours.

The women's main draw began on Wednesday while the men kick off their first round on Thursday in one of the biggest events of the season outside of the four Grand Slams.

Kvitova said Sharapova's failed test shows that the doping control officials are on top of things. "This is an example that they are doing everything to have a clean sport. I think the system is working."

The 28-year-old Sharapova admitted she has been taking the now banned drug for about 10 years.

Former US Open singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova said Sharapova should not be tried in public and her fate should be left in the hands of tennis officials.

"First of all, I want to say that Maria is a great athlete and even this 'strange mistake' will not be able to outshine all of what she has achieved in tennis," Russia's Kuznetsova said on her Twitter account.

"And most importantly none of us, especially me, have no rights to comment on this story - not to criticise or evaluate Maria. The doping agency has to see this case not others."