Sharapova targets April return after doping ban reduced
Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova hailed the reduction of her two-year doping ban on Tuesday as one of the "happiest days" of her life, immediately targeting a return to action in April 2017.
The Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cut to 15 months Sharapova's ban imposed by an independent tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for meldonium.
"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.
The 29-year-old tested positive for the banned medication meldonium during January's Australian Open, throwing her glittering career -- 35 WTA singles titles and more than $36 million in career earnings -- into serious jeopardy.
In its verdict, the CAS "found that Ms Sharapova committed an anti-doping rule violation and that while it was with 'no significant fault', she bore some degree of fault, for which a sanction of 15 months is appropriate".
Sharapova openly admitted she had been taking meldonium for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.
She said it had entirely escaped her attention that the product had been added to the banned substance list published by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on January 1, just before the Australian Open.
"I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last 10 years was no longer allowed," Sharapova said in her facebook post Tuesday.
"But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe, where Mildronate (the trade name of meldonium) is commonly taken by millions of people."
Sharapova added: "Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through."
Steve Simon, CEO of the WTA, said he had faith in the tennis anti-doping programme (TADP).
"The TADP has a comprehensive and fair process in place and we support the final (CAS) result," Simon said.
"We are pleased that the process is now at completion and can look forward to seeing Maria back on court in 2017."
- 'Counting the days' -
Sharapova, one of the biggest names in tennis, said she was itching to get back on court.
"I’m coming back soon and I can’t wait!" she said.
"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.
"Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."
Sharapova was intially prescribed meldonium a year after winning Wimbledon as a 17-year-old by a Russian doctor in Moscow to boost her immune system.
She burst onto the tennis scene by stealing hearts and that title at Wimbledon in 2004 before going on to clinch the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014.
Her ferocity on the court, business acumen and glamorous looks have all combined to make her a marketing juggernaut and the overseer of such successful ventures as her "Sugarpova" line of candy, which have helped her amass a fortune estimated at $200 million.