Sharapova saga to continue after tennis star announces appeal


The doping case involving Maria Sharapova appears set to rumble on for some time yet after the tennis star announced her intention to appeal a two-year suspension she describes as "unfairly harsh".

Sharapova, a former world number one and the highest-paid female athlete for 11 years prior to 2016, revealed in March that she had tested positive for the prohibited substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open.

The Russian was initially prescribed meldonium for health reasons and claimed to be unaware it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list on January 1.

However, on Wednesday, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced an independent tribunal had imposed a two-year ban on Sharapova, backdated to the day of her positive test in Melbourne - January 26, 2016.

Within minutes of the ITF releasing the decision, Sharapova posted a message on Facebook, stating: "I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years."

Yet the full findings of the tribunal made for grim reading for Sharapova, who was criticised for continuing to use meldonium - and failing to disclose this fact - after she had left the care of Dr Anatoly Skalny, the doctor who first prescribed the drug to her in 2005.

The tribunal stated: "It may be that she genuinely believed that Mildronate [a trade name for meldonium] had some general beneficial effect on her health but the manner in which the medication was taken, its concealment from the anti-doping authorities, her failure to disclose it even to her own team, and the lack of any medical justification must inevitably lead to the conclusion that she took Mildronate for the purpose of enhancing her performance."

Although the tribunal ruled Sharapova's contravention of anti-doping rules "was not intentional", it also concluded: "She does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible. She is the sole author of her own misfortune."

Should her appeal to the CAS fail, Sharapova will not be eligible to play in a grand slam until the 2018 French Open, by which time she will be 31.

In a tweet containing a link to an article on Sharapova's suspension, tennis great Martina Navratilova wrote: "Yikes - it will be hard to come back from this."

Eighteen-time grand slam singles champion Chris Evert added: "A little surprised it's 2 yrs, but after reading the whole case, I understand. It's a long time for MS to come back."

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) also has the option of appealing the sanction handed down to Sharapova.

A WADA statement read: "As with all decisions made by Anti-Doping Organizations, WADA will review the decision, including its reasoning, and will subsequently decide whether or not to use its independent right of appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS)."