Shara­pova re­turns in April

Jamaica Gleaner - - SPORTS -

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce car­ries the flag of Ja­maica dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony for the 2016 Sum­mer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Au­gust 5. LONDON (AP): MARIA SHARA­POVA will be el­i­gi­ble to re­turn to com­pet­i­tive tennis in April af­ter her two-year dop­ing ban was re­duced to 15 months yes­ter­day by a sports court that found the Rus­sian star did not bear “sig­nif­i­cant fault” for her pos­i­tive drug test.

The Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion for Sport (CAS) cut nine months off the sus­pen­sion im­posed on Shara­pova, who tested pos­i­tive for the banned heart med­i­ca­tion mel­do­nium at the Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary.

Shara­pova, a five-time Grand Slam cham­pion and former No. 1-ranked player, ap­pealed to CAS in June, seek­ing to over­turn or re­duce the two-year penalty im­posed by the In­ter­na­tional Tennis Fed­er­a­tion (ITF).

In a 28-page rul­ing, the CAS panel found that Shara­pova bore “some de­gree of fault” but “less than sig­nif­i­cant fault” in the case that has side­lined one of the world’s most prom­i­nent and wealthy fe­male ath­letes.

“The panel has de­ter­mined, un­der the to­tal­ity of the cir­cum­stances, that a sanc­tion of 15 months is ap­pro­pri­ate here given her de­gree of fault,” the three-man ar­bi­tra­tion body ruled.


While Shara­pova did com­mit a dop­ing vi­o­la­tion, “un­der no cir­cum­stances ... can the player be con­sid­ered to be an ‘in­ten­tional doper,’” the panel said.

Shara­pova’s ban, which took ef­fect on Jan­uary 26, was orig­i­nally due to run un­til Jan­uary 25, 2018. Now she can re­turn on April 26, 2017, a month ahead of the French Open, a Grand Slam tour­na­ment she has won twice.

“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,” Shara­pova said in a state­ment.

“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,” she added. “Tennis is my pas­sion and I have missed it. I am count­ing the days un­til I can re­turn to the court.”

The dop­ing sus­pen­sion kept the 29-year-old Shara­pova out of this year’s French Open, Wim­ble­don and US Open, as well as the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She will also miss the 2017 Aus­tralian Open in Jan­uary.


Steve Si­mon, CEO of the WTA tour, wel­comed Tues­day’s rul­ing.

“We are pleased that the process is now at com­ple­tion and can look for­ward to see­ing Maria back on court in 2017,” he said.

Shara­pova ac­knowl­edged tak­ing mel­do­nium be­fore each match at last year’s Aus­tralian Open, where she lost in the quar­ter-fi­nals to Ser­ena Wil­liams.

But Shara­pova said she was not aware that mel­do­nium, also known as mil­dronate, had been in­cluded on the World Anti-Dop­ing Agency’s list of banned sub­stances from Jan­uary 1, 2016.

Shara­pova’s lawyer, John Hag­gerty, called Tues­day’s rul­ing a “stun­ning re­pu­di­a­tion” of the ITF, which he said failed to prop­erly no­tify play­ers of the mel­do­nium ban.

Shara­pova said she was first pre­scribed the Lat­vian-made drug, typ­i­cally used for heart con­di­tions, by her fam­ily doc­tor for var­i­ous med­i­cal is­sues in 2006. She said she took the drug for reg­u­lar bouts of the flu, pos­si­ble on­set of di­a­betes and a mag­ne­sium de­fi­ciency.

Mel­do­nium in­creases blood flow, which im­proves ex­er­cise ca­pac­ity by car­ry­ing more oxy­gen to the mus­cles.

More than 100 ath­letes, in­clud­ing many Rus­sians and other eastern Euro­peans, tested pos­i­tive for mel­do­nium early in the year. Some es­caped with no sanc­tions be­cause they ar­gued suc­cess­fully that they stopped tak­ing the drug be­fore Jan­uary 1, and that traces had lin­gered in their system. Shara­pova, how­ever, ac­knowl­edged that she used mel­do­nium af­ter Jan­uary 1.


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