Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test at Australian Open begs the question of who else in Tennis is using banned substances

I’m pretty sure the majority of you would have heard the news last night that one of Tennis most famous and accomplished players Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open earlier this year.

The Russian athlete called a press conference last night with many fans and journalists expecting her to announce her retirement. But what came next was a shock to the whole sport – and it begs the question just how clean is Tennis?

Doping in other sports has been around for as long as people can remember; just take a sport I love, cycling – in the 1920’s riders were doping; and in some cases riders lost their lives because nobody knew the dangers of the harmful drugs they were putting into their system.

And then fast-forward years to 1998 and the Festina episode which nearly saw the Tour de France abandoned that year.

And, how can we not forget the news in 2012 regarding Lance Armstrong who finally came clean about his doping program at the US Postal service. Doping has affected cycling in a magnitude of ways and we are still seeing the sport coming out the other side of that at the moment.

Lance Armstrong finally came clean in 2012 after running the 'most sophisticated doping program' the sport of cycling had ever seen
Lance Armstrong finally came clean in 2012 after running the ‘most sophisticated doping program’ the sport of cycling had ever seen

But back to Sharapova and her startling admission which might have just lifted the lid on more potential dopers in a sport which has had a reputation for being fairly clean.

But my research has shown that Tennis has had some high profile cases of stars being caught with positive traces of banned substances – and some might surprise you.

Marin Cilic was banned for nine months by the International Tennis Federation in 2013 after stimulants of Nikethamide were found. Then in the same year Viktor Troicki was banned for 18 months after refusing to take a blood test in Monte Carlo.

The more you research the more you find that bigger names of the sport have tried to push the boundaries; Frenchman Richard Gasquet tested positive for cocaine in 2009; and then in his autobiography in 1997 Andre Agassi admitted to taking Crystal meth at one point during his career.

Then finally Greg Rusedski tested positive for steroids in 2003, and when Martina Hingis came back to the sport she also tested positive for cocaine. And finally, in 2010 Wayne Odesnik pleaded guilty to importing human growth hormone in Australia and was suspended for two years.

There are now wider repercussions for Tennis’s ‘golden girl’ Sharapova

It is quite a watershed moment for tennis, which has shown that WADA’s work on catching athletes using banned substances is certainly working.

But speaking at the press conference yesterday, Sharapova said: “I did fail the test and take full responsibility for it.”

The five-time Grand Slam winner said she had been taking meldonium for the past ten years, and didn’t realise it was added to WADA’s banned substance list on January 1 of this year.

Sharapova now faces an uncertain wait to find out what her punishment will be
Sharapova now faces an uncertain wait to find out what her punishment will be

“It is very important for you to understand that, for 10 years, this medicine was not on Wada’s banned list and I had been legally taking that medicine for the past 10 years,” Sharapova said.

The Russian continued, saying: “But, on 1 January, the rules changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance, which I had not known.”

The fallout from the Russian athlete’s admission has already been fairly severe; Nike who has represented her since the age of 11 have suspended ties, and have said they will ‘monitor’ the situation. But Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer will not renew her contract.

According to Forbes, Sharapova is the highest paid female athlete earning nearly $30m; but now she has been provisionally banned by the ITF from March 12, as they decide on what punishment the former Wimbledon winner will receive.

Sharapova has said she doesn’t want to retire just yet; but if a lengthy ban comes her way, she might just have to reconsider that.

It was an announcement completely out of the blue; one that has no doubt stunned tennis fans globally; but if Tennis can learn anything from cycling and Athletes is that there will always be people willing to push the boundaries regardless of their high position in the sport.

In regards to Sharapova’s case it’s hard to tell if it was just an accident or whether the Russian has been trying to cheat the system and get away with it.

But regardless, more will come to light and only then we will see if Sharapova’s claims stand up.

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