The career of Russian former world number one Maria Sharapova was in tatters today after she was given a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) following her positive test for the banned drug meldonium.
In a statement the ITF said the five-times grand slam champion’s ban would be backdated to January 26 this year, meaning her results and prize money from the Australian Open, where she reached the quarter-finals, would be cancelled out.
Sharapova, 29, said she would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), describing the punishment as “unfairly harsh”.
She said an independent tribunal in London on May 18-19 had found that she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.
A 33-page report of the tribunal’s findings said: “The ITF accepts that the player did not engage in conduct that she knew constituted an anti-doping rule violation,” but it rejected her assertion that there was no “significant” fault on her part.
“She was the sole author of her own misfortune,” it said.
On its website, the ITF said the ban, which could have been as long as four years, had been backdated due to Sharapova’s “prompt admission” of taking the substance, and would end on midnight of January 25, 2018.
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) later issued a short statement saying it would review the decision before deciding whether to use its independent right of appeal to CAS.
Sharapova has regularly battled back from serious injuries during her glittering career but the two-year ban means she will not be eligible to play until after the 2018 Australian Open when she will be 30, and raises the question of whether she will ever play again.
Meldonium was added to WADA’s list of banned substances at the start of the year after mounting evidence that it boosted blood flow and enhanced athletic performance.
Around 180 athletes have tested positive for the drug, manufactured in Latvia and common throughout eastern Europe, since January.
Sharapova, the world’s highest-paid female athlete, stunned the sporting world in March when she announced that she had tested positive for meldonium, a component of a product named Mildronate which she has taken since 2006 for health issues.
At the time Sharapova, the highest-profile tennis player to fail an anti-doping test, said she had made “a huge mistake” in failing to realize that continuing to take Mildronate would be a violation of the anti-doping code.
The tribunal found that Sharapova had taken Mildronate before each of her five matches at this year’s Australian Open where she lost to Serena Williams.
The report also said that Sharapova had not made her use of Mildronate known to most of her team, including her coach, her trainer, her physiotherapist and her nutritionist, nor any of the doctors made available to players by the WTA.
Sharapova has 35 WTA singles titles and has won all four of the sport’s grand slam titles.
Her career earnings amount to $36 million while her off-court earnings, according to Forbes, are around $200 million.