Ten­nis play­ers miss­ing drugs tests

➤ Lock­down causes dra­matic fall in sam­ples be­ing taken ➤ ITF ad­mits com­bined to­tal has slumped dur­ing pan­demic

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - By Si­mon Briggs and Jan­nik Sch­nei­der

Drugs test­ing in ten­nis has fallen by alarm­ing lev­els dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­demic, The Daily Tele­graph can re­veal.

As the sport pre­pares for the start of the French Open on Sun­day, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by this news­pa­per has found that some of the world’s lead­ing play­ers were barely tested in the five months be­tween the sus­pen­sion of the tours in early March, and the Western & South­ern Open last month.

The In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis Fed­er­a­tion – the world gov­ern­ing body that con­ducts the vast ma­jor­ity of tests in the sport – has also ad­mit­ted that the com­bined to­tals of tests from the sec­ond and third quar­ter of the year are un­likely to match the 1,935 sam­ples col­lected in the first quar­ter.

The rev­e­la­tions will lead to con­cerns that play­ers could have ex­ploited the lack of test­ing by us­ing il­le­gal sub­stances dur­ing the pan­demic, ei­ther to build up train­ing vol­umes or help re­cov­ery from in­jury.

The Tele­graph spoke to a wide range of play­ers at this week’s ATP event in Ham­burg to gauge how fre­quently they had been tested dur­ing lock­down.

Kei Nishikori, the for­mer world No4, and ris­ing tal­ents Felix Auger Alias­sime and Do­minik Koepfer re­ported that they had per­formed only one test in that largely tour­na­ment-free pe­riod. Ser­ena Williams has also been tested only once by the US Anti-Dop­ing Agency in 2020.

For pur­poses of com­par­i­son, Nishikori – who bases him­self at the IMG Academy in Florida – un­der­went 29 tests last year from the ITF alone, of which 17 were “out of com­pe­ti­tion” (this cat­e­gory, rather mis­lead­ingly, in­cludes tests con­ducted at tour­na­ment venues up to 11.59pm on the night be­fore the first ball is struck).

Another no­table con­trast can be spot­ted in the test­ing record of Ger­man No2 Jan-Len­nard Struff. He was tested 31 times by the ITF last year, but was asked to com­plete only three tests be­tween March and the be­gin­ning of the Ham­burg event – a pe­riod of more than six months.

“There were no tests be­tween March and the end of May,” Struff said. “NADA [Ger­many’s anti-dop­ing agency] kept us play­ers up­dated on that. We had to con­tinue the ‘where­abouts’ sys­tem. Then, af­ter the break, they sug­gested a self-test and gave us a man­ual on how to do it at home. But it was not manda­tory. Af­ter May, I was tested two times in Ger­many in the morn­ing at home in a short pe­riod of time. I was also tested by the ITF in the bub­ble be­fore the US Open.”

One player – Tommy Paul of the United States – also re­vealed that he had not re­ceived a sin­gle visit at

home from dope testers since the start of lock­down, and said that the same was true of his house­mate Reilly Opelka. There is no sug­ges­tion that any of these play­ers have com­mit­ted any wrong­do­ing.

Now that tour-level events are re­sum­ing, the ITF test­ing pro­gramme is be­gin­ning to pick up vol­ume again. Stu­art Miller, the ITF’s di­rec­tor of in­tegrity, in­sisted that the gov­ern­ing body “did try to main­tain a pres­ence through­out the lock­down” but ac­knowl­edged it had not been able to sus­tain the test­ing lev­els from the first three months of the year dur­ing the height of the pan­demic. Miller also in­di­cated that the num­ber of blood tests – a more so­phis­ti­cated anti-dop­ing tool than urine test­ing – had fallen as a per­cent­age of the next batch of fig­ures, which are ex­pected to be re­leased at the end of the month. “It is more in­va­sive, and that is some­thing we had to be very care­ful about,” he said. “It’s eas­ier to main­tain the ap­pro­pri­ate so­cial dis­tanc­ing when col­lect­ing urine than blood.”

Boris Becker, the six-time grand slam win­ner, urged the ten­nis au­thor­i­ties to re­store test­ing to prepan­demic lev­els in or­der to en­sure the sport re­tained its cred­i­bil­ity in the eyes of the pub­lic.

“The world is spe­cial at the mo­ment but ten­nis should be a role model in test­ing and it is im­por­tant to have many tests again in ev­ery coun­try,” he said. “We now have to test more again.”

In nor­mal cir­cum­stances, the ITF would ex­pect to per­form about 85 per cent of tests, with NADO (na­tional anti-dop­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions) do­ing the rest. But that out­side sup­port col­lapsed com­pletely be­tween March and June, and has been slow to re­sume.

In Spain, for in­stance, the di­rec­tor of the AEPSAD – the na­tional anti-dop­ing agency – an­nounced at the end of March that the na­tional test pro­gramme would come to a com­plete halt dur­ing lock­down. AEPSAD told The Tele­graph that its pro­gramme had re­sumed in June, with 550 tests since then across all sports. Again, though, blood test­ing has been af­fected by the na­tional rule stat­ing that only doc­tors can col­lect sam­ples.

The slow­down in test­ing pre­dates lock­down, and af­fects all sports. In Great Bri­tain, for in­stance, the only

fig­ures avail­able for 2020 cover the first quar­ter of the year, and show that UK Anti-Dop­ing col­lected just 126 tests, of which none were in ten­nis. In 2019, the first quar­ter showed a lit­tle over 2,000 tests, of which five were in ten­nis.

Daniil Medvedev, the world No5, said that he had ex­pe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion in France, where he trains at a ten­nis academy in Cannes.

“I was in France dur­ing the lock­down and the dop­ing con­trol of­fi­cers couldn’t come dur­ing that time,” Medvedev said. “It was com­mu­ni­cated that way.”

Af­ter lock­down, Medvedev added, he had been tested once in France. Be­fore and dur­ing the US Open in New York, he was tested twice by the ITF.

NADO tests are par­tic­u­larly valu­able be­cause they are taken out of com­pe­ti­tion, and thus have an el­e­ment of sur­prise not present in those col­lected at an event. Typ­i­cally, in-com­pe­ti­tion tests are car­ried out via a urine sam­ple when a player loses – or, in the best-case sce­nario, af­ter they lift the ti­tle.

Even be­fore the pan­demic had stacked the odds even fur­ther in this hi-tech game of cops-and-rob­bers, ten­nis was al­ready lag­ging be­hind many other sports in its de­fences. In 2018, for in­stance, a to­tal of 6,643 ten­nis tests were car­ried out world­wide – a long way be­hind swim­ming (32,309) and cy­cling (25,391).

Over­looked: Rus­sia’s Daniil Medvedev, the world No5, was not tested dur­ing lock­down while based in France

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