The tennis world and sports fans across the globe are still coming to grips with the news that Maria Sharapova failed a drug test at the Australian Open and will be out of the game indefinitely. When news came through that the 28-year-old was calling a press conference for Monday in Los Angeles, speculation was rife that she was about to retire from the game - no one had even considered the possibility her career could be ending like this.
The Russian has suffered a catalogue of injuries over the past 2-3 years and hasn’t looked anywhere near her best but the news that Sharapova tested positive for Meldonium came like a bolt from the blue. The repercussions for her error in judgement are major, in terms of sponsorship - where Nike has already come out and said they are suspending their relationship for the time being - and her standing in the game in general.
The fact that she has been taking the drug for over ten years for a medical condition seems legitimate from the outside. However, in this day and age where the two words drugs and sport are mentioned in the same breath, the public are always going to be sceptical.
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For years, fans were taken for mugs by the likes of Marion Jones and Lance Armstrong, falling for their lies every time they opened their mouth. Now anytime an athlete fails a drug test there is considerably less sympathy to be found, even if they seem to have a plausible reason.
Then there is the feeling among her peers. There is bound to be a lot of discussion around the circuit about the situation. Although not a current player, fellow Grand Slam winner Jennifer Capriati has spoken out on Twitter calling for Sharapova to be stripped of her titles.
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Meanwhile, Martina Navratilova struck a far more conciliatory tone, tweeting:
Other former players are quite correct in saying that whatever medical condition a player may have, they have an obligation to see whether the drug they are taking is on the WADA banned list. Sharapova said she did receive an email towards the end of December informing her that Meldonium was going to be on the updated list, however, she didn’t click the link- a clear mistake on her part.
It is far too soon for such drastic measures to take place like Capriati mentioned, as all the finer details are still to be heard and Sharapova's lawyer said there is a list of mitigating circumstances. One thing is certain and that is the Russian has had a glittering career.
You don’t win 35 singles titles and five Grand Slams (coming on all four surfaces) without being an absolute great of the game. However, if her explanations over the use of the drug fall on deaf ears, there will undoubtedly be a black mark attached to her achievements. Similarly like what Martina Hingis went through in 2007 with her two-year ban for the use of cocaine.
While Hingis has returned to the tour and is starring on the doubles circuit, it remains what a similar ban will do for the Russian. Only time will tell and it will be intriguing to see what happens next.