Tennis star Maria Sharapova suspended two years for positive meldonium test, will appeal (updated(

Tennis star Maria Sharapova suspended two years for positive meldonium test, will appeal (updated(

In a bombshell announcement, tennis star Maria Sharapova will be out of tennis for two years, following the announcement Wednesday of the decision of the International Tennis Federation's anti-doping arm on the suspension for her positive test for meldonium.

She won't be eligible to return to the WTA Tour until after the 2018 Australian Open.

The Independant Tribunal charged with making the decision decided to back-date the suspension to the day of the positive test, "due to the prompt admission of her violation." So the two-year ban will officially end Jan. 25, 2018. Click here to read the entire document.

Sharapova immediately posted a response on her Facebook page, stating she would appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. She said that the ITF asked for a four-year suspension; the document states that Sharapova asked for no more than time already served. The end result was somewhere in the middle.

"While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. 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," Sharapova said in a statement.

Later Wednesday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that Nike – Sharapova's biggest corporate sponsor – which had suspended its association when she first announced her positive test – will resume its partnership.

Sharapova noted that despite all the testimony in the document, the ITF did find the use of meldonium "non-intentional." Otherwise, the ban would have been four years, not two. However, the decision also states the opposite elsewhere in the 33-page decision; it's hard to know exactly what the ITF's exact position on this is other than it issued a suspension consistent with the former conclusion.

Notable in the lengthy document is the fact that although Sharapova stated originally that she had been taking the drug, also called Mildronate, upon medical advice for a decade because of various health concerns, the documents she provided to the ITF as the case was heard only went back three years.

"So in this case the Tribunal is entitled not only to reach conclusions on the documents which have been disclosed, but also to draw inferences from the absence of relevant documents," the decision states.

The doctor who appears to have prescribed the Mildronate, Dr. Anatoly Skalny of the Centre for Biotic Medicine in Moscow (her father Yuri was the one who took her to see him in 2005), has not been her doctor since the beginning of 2013. When she went to see him, she was suffering from "frequent cold-related illnesses, tonsil issues and upper abdomen pain. Dr. Skalny prescribed some 18 medications and supplements, per the decision document. His advice was to take two Mildronate capsules an hour before her matches – to be increased to three or four pills, if needed.

Per the decision, there is no evidence the doctor specifically prescribed the medication for a heart irregularity or a family history of diabetes, which Sharapova's camp stated were among the reasons for her to be taking it. He was not a cardiologist, and he did not make her even take a treadmill test. By 2012, that list of medications/supplements had grown to 30.

By early 2013, Sharapova was under the care of a nutritionist and no longer consulting with Dr. Skalny. She moved to eliminate most of the onerous number of pills she was taking, but continued to take three of them – including the Mildronate.

This paragraph asks the question that many tennis journalists and fans have asked themselves about this case:


The documents states that players are required to disclose, in their own handwriting, what medications and supplements they are taking. In seven such documents from 2014-2016 produced for the hearing, Sharapova does disclose some of said items but never discloses that she was taking the Mildronate (which, while on the watch list in 2015, was not a banned substance until Jan. 1 2016).

Sharapova tested positive for "significant samples" of it at Wimbledon, at the WTA Tour finals in Singapore and at the Fed Cup finals. She also told the panel that she had taken 500 mg. of the substance before each of her five matches at the Australian Open.

Her reasons was as follows, per the decision:

“I did not feel it was a huge responsibility of mine to write all those medications down. As I said before, in hindsight, this is a mistake of mine. …. I did not feel it was a responsibility to have to write down every single match drink I was taking, gel, vitamin that I was taking, even if I took it once during the last seven days. I did not think it was of high importance.”

There is a lot more in the 33-page document linked to above; the immediate conclusion is the entire chain of events doesn't make either Sharapova, IMG agent Max Eisenbud or members of his staff look particularly good. It also gives the impression that Sharapova was more than well aware of the dodginess of the Mildronate consumption, despite her pleading ignorance, even if she didn't specifically know that it had gone from the "watch list" to the "prohibited substances" list.

Eisenbud states that his regular routine of checking the updated prohibited substance list at the end of every season was interrupted by the personal issues he was dealing with at the end of 2015, namely a separation from his wife.

All of that will surely come into play when her case is heard by the CAS.

Under normal circumstances – that is to say, the typical ITF doping case decision that involves a player you’ve probably never heard of – this would be the first time anyone would hear about it.

For example, the last decision announced by the ITF came May 20, concerning the case of Brazilian doubles specialist Marcelo Demoliner. The 27-year-old tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide, a masking agent, at the Australian Open and it was determined that his three-months suspension would be from Feb. 1 to April 30, with any ranking points earned forfeited.

The Sharapova hearing came May 18-19, shortly before that decision.

You would have to keep careful track of every little fish in the pro tennis sea to realize that Demoliner, who nevertheless played the entire South American clay-court circuit in February before getting word of his positive test, was out of commission from March through May before returning at the French Open.

The announcement therefore came at the end of the process for him. He was back before anyone was the wiser.

In Sharapova’s case, she (and her PR people) got out ahead of it with that extraordinary and unexpected press conference in Los Angeles March 7, just before the Indian Wells tournament.

Normally, there wouldn’t be any comment from the WTA Tour, the ITF or its anti-doping arm about a case that hadn’t been taken to its conclusion. But in this case there was statement released that day by the ITF, and another on April 14 indicating there would be no more comment.

Nearly two months later, the process was finally complete. And the fact that Sharapova admitted from the get-go that she had, indeed, taken the substance ended up working in her favour to shorten the suspension somewhat.

While she waited, Sharapova spent much of the last week on Twitter posting photos and videos of her practicing, and replying to virtually every Tweet from fans who have purchased a shirt with the slogan “back in 5 minutes”. Sharapova wore the shirt while promoting her candy and chocolate lines and it became sort of a rallying cry for her fans – and a bonanza for the company that manufactures the shirt.

The text of the decision hit the ITF’s website at 11 a.m. EDT – coincidentally, just as another star player missing in action in recent weeks, Roger Federer, finally returned to the court at a grass tournament in Stuttgart, Germany.

It likely was no coincidence that the Sharapova decision didn’t come down during the ITF-run Grand Slam tournament in Paris, the French Open, which was completed Sunday.

Despite all the uncertainty surrounding her participation, Sharapova was named to Russian's Olympic team at the end of May.  Obviously, now, that's a moot point.