Maria Sharapova has found support from sponsors after being given a two-year suspension for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open.
Sharapova though has vowed to fight the ban, announced by the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday, after she tested positive for prohibited substance meldonium.
The five-time grand slam champion will miss the Olympic Games in Rio this summer while the earliest grand slam she could next enter is the French Open in 2018, but will take her fight against the sanction to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
And high-profile sponsors Nike and HEAD are standing by the the Russian, with Nike lifting the suspension they imposed on their contract when news of her failed drugs test emerged in March.
At the time of the failed test, the sportswear giant said it was putting its eight-year, US dollars 70million deal on hold.
What cuts against Sharapova most in the 33-page ruling, I think, is how she admits taking meldonium on morning of every match in Melbourne…— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 8, 2016
…if you're taking something just on match days that's about helping performance, not heart/pre-diabetes/whatever issues initially mentioned.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) June 8, 2016
But in a statement on Wednesday night, it said that it had decided to continue working with Sharapova.
“The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban. Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her,” read the statement.
Sharapova’s racket provider HEAD never wavered in its support of her, citing her as a “role model and woman of integrity” at the time of her failed test and proceeding to extend her deal.
And in a statement widely reported on Twitter the manufacturer’s chairman Johan Eliasch said: “Based upon the evidence provided by Miss Sharapova, WADA and by Dr Don Catlin, the Chief Science Officer of the Banned Substances Control Group, it appears that the ITF have made their decision based upon a flawed process undertaken by WADA that clearly highlights how WADA have broken their own rules in determining whether or not meldonium should be banned.
“We believe, based on the facts and circumstances provided to us, that is is a flawed decision. HEAD will continue to support Miss Sharapova.”
Sharapova tested positive for the controversial banned medication meldonium during January’s Australian Open.
“An Independent Tribunal appointed under Article 8.1 of the 2016 Tennis Anti-Doping Programme (the “Programme”) has found that Maria Sharapova committed an Anti-Doping Rule Violation under Article 2.1 of the Programme and as a consequence has disqualified the affected results and imposed a period of ineligibility of two years, commencing on 26 January 2016,” said a statement on the ITF website.
The five-time grand slam champion will miss the Olympic Games in Rio this summer while the earliest grand slam she could next compete in will be the French Open in 2018.
Sharapova said she will appeal the two-year doping ban handed down to her by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for doping and which threatens to end her career.
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” Sharapova wrote on her Facebook page.
“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. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.”
In a statement issued on her Facebook page, Maria Sharapova has said she will “immediately appeal the suspension portion” to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Before the French Open, Novak Djokovic spent a couple of days with Roland Garros legend Gustavo Kuerten to shoot some commercial videos for his sponsor Peugeot.
Djokovic and his coaches Boris Becker and Marian Vajda – an old friend of Kuerten’s from the days the Slovak used to coach Dominik Hrbaty – asked the Brazilian three-time French Open champion what advice he’d give them before the action kicked off in Paris.
“I said heart, man,” Kuerten revealed after Djokovic’s four-set victory over Andy Murray in the final on Sunday.
“And today you could see it, because in the end he got nervous and he needed to express himself a little bit. And that’s how you get the emotions to dissipate a little and you can survive the nerves.”
After pouring his heart into the match against Murray, Djokovic celebrated the same way Kuerten did in Paris in 2001 – he drew a heart on the clay with his racquet and lay on his back in the centre of it. “I suspected he would do it because he asked for my permission before the tournament. I said of course, but mine was a little bit better. I will tell him ‘you need to improve on this’,” laughed Kuerten.
Djokovic later explained: “Guga (Kuerten) drawing the heart on the court is for me personally the most memorable moment that I have ever seen from Roland Garros.
“It was something completely different. I asked him if I have that permission and honour in case I win to do that. So he gave me that permission.”
The Serbian world No1 made history on Sunday by becoming the eighth man to complete the career Grand Slam, and just the third man ever to hold all four grand slam titles at the same time – something that had not been achieved since the great Rod Laver in 1969.
“It’s incredibly flattering to know that Rod Laver is the last one that managed to do that, of course. There are not many words that can describe it. It’s one of the ultimate challenges that you have as a tennis player,” said Djokovic, who finally captured the French Open title on his 12th attempt.
“I’m very proud, very thrilled, obviously. But it’s hard for me to reflect on what has happened before and what’s gonna happen after. I mean, I’m just so overwhelmed with having this trophy next to me that I’m just trying to enjoy this moment.”
He may be trying to enjoy the moment, but Djokovic is quickly reminded that he is already halfway towards a calendar year Grand Slam. The last time a player won the first two majors of the year was Jim Courier 24 years ago.
Does Djokovic believe he can emulate Laver – who pulled off the Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969 – and win all four this season?
“I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I really think everything is achievable in life,” said Djokovic.
Kuerten believes the younger generation needs at least two more years to test the Serb and considers Djokovic the favourite for every major he enters at the moment.
“I’m not crazy to say otherwise,” the 39-year-old said. “Winning four slams in a row is one of the highest ever possible feats in tennis and that’s what he’s doing daily.
“He’s able to break all the records, he’s getting even close to Roger Federer now and perhaps in a year or two we’re going to see him with a real chance of getting the same number of grand slams (as Roger). He’s able to get better every single year and that’s scary.”
Djokovic’s career arc has seen him go from someone chasing people like Federer and Rafael Nadal to dominating them. He is now two slams behind Nadal’s 14 and five behind Federer’s record of 17.
Djokovic also holds the record for most Masters 1000 titles won (29), has spent more weeks at No1 than Nadal (currently in his 202nd week at the top) and has separated himself from the rest by completing the non-calendar year Grand Slam.