The tennis world was stunned in March when Sharapova called a surprise press conference, announcing she had been found to have tested positive for meldonium in January at the Australian Open earlier this year. The substance had been added to the WADA list of prohibited substances having been previously on its watch-list.
Sharapova was judged by the ITF tribunal to have borne significant fault for her violation, and passed down a two year ban backdated to 26 January 2016. Her defence rested on the difficulty for athletes to check the periodic notifications as to what was now on the banned list.
The CAS ruling, already delayed ahead of the Olympics as a last ditch attempt to overturn the ruling and compete in Rio 2016, upheld her plea but does state that the five-time Grand Slam champion “bore some degree of fault, for which a sanction of 15 months is appropriate.”
The original ban would have seen Sharapova return for the 2018 Australian Open, but now the Russian, who has remained active on her social media channels, enrolling on a business course at Harvard and often pictured training, will be free to return to the WTA Tour on April 26 2017, ahead of the French Open.
Sharapova released this message to her fans on Facebook:
In her Facebook statement above, she says: “I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.
“In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court.
“I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well. CAS concluded that “the Panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the [ITF] Tribunal…”
“I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last ten years was no longer allowed. But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where Mildronate is commonly taken by millions of people.
“Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through.”
After the initial ruling, sponsors such as Nike who had previously distanced themselves returned to Sharapova, on the understanding that she had not knowingly taken the substance to enhance performance, but that it had been previously subscribed and taken over the past decade.
However in the CAS ruling, the panel found that Sharapova had previously failed to disclose her then allowed use of meldonium prior to this year on her doping control forms.
Sharapova was ranked World No. 5 at the start of the 2016 Australian Open, and is currently just inside the Top 100 (95) at the time of the ruling. She will be 30 when the French Open rolls around. She is just one of 10 women to win a career Grand Slam and is a two time champion at Roland Garros.
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