Tennis is right to enhance its testing for PEDs

Switzerland's Roger Federer serves against Serbia's Novak Djokovic Switzerland's Roger Federer serves against Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the singles final on the eighth day of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London. (Nov. 12, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty

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John Jeansonne

Jeansonne has been a reporter in Newsday’s sports department since 1970 and has covered 11 Olympic Games and ...

There is a New Yorker cartoon depicting an endless series of cows jumping over the moon, while in the field below, one of their brethren is saying to a fellow bovine, "It's lost all meaning in the steroid era."

Sure enough, when doping works its way into nursery rhymes, it is clear that cynicism -- and testing -- will be taken up a notch. On Tuesday, tennis officials acknowledged they are mulling a blood-screening system currently employed to nab cheats in cycling and track and field.

Of course, this is related to Lance Armstrong's spectacular descent from cycling superhero to career-long drug cheat. Stuart Miller, in charge of doping control for the International Tennis Federation, told the Associated Press that his sport is "looking very, very carefully at an athlete biological passport."

Such a program obtains individual athletes' baseline blood readings, to be compared to any changes over time, which could indicate use of performance enhancing drugs. Three of the top four male players in the world -- Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic -- publicly endorsed such a plan during the year-end championship event in London.

In a way, this is old news. Long before the door slammed behind the disgraced Armstrong, the likes of Olympic sprinters Ben Johnson and Marion Jones provided sports fans with the power of negative thinking, the corrosive doubts that no great feat seemed possible without juicing.

Concurrently, since the 2004 Olympics, testing has evolved past simple urine screening -- which was incapable of detecting some of the more sophisticated illegal substances. And both spectators and athletes have come to acknowledge the reality of doping for more than just building muscle and power for the weight and speed sports.

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Tennis, though one of the early leaders in drug screening, in recent years has lagged behind some other sports in out-of-competition testing -- when anti-doping experts emphasize that illegal substances can give a significant boost to training and enhance recovery.

During the 2010 U.S. Open, doubles player Daniel Nestor voiced a suspicion that "stuff" was going on in his sport, which increasingly demands ferocious endurance, upon seeing "guys play five hours and come back the next day and do it again."

Stanford University psychiatry professor Ira Glick, who has treated and studied professional athletes for decades, concluded years ago that what makes champion athletes unique, "aside from better talent and better bodies, is that they will do anything to win. They will. Not all. But it's not an uncommon characteristic."

That logically would include tennis players. And, amid the toxic fumes in the Armstrong cycling case, it is being reported that Sara Erani, David Ferrer and Dinara Safina all have been asked about their connections to Armstrong's Spanish-based doctor, Luis Garcia del Moral; and that tennis tests its athletes at about 1/3 the rate of cyclists.

Federer, for one, made a point of saying he has not been tested as often as in the past, though some other highly ranked players, such as Serena Williams, claimed they are tested "a lot" in what Williams described as a "pretty intense system."

As long ago as 1998, Petr Korda, that year's Australian Open champion, tested positive for the steroid nandrolone, There have been scattered other positives since, and there is a Web site, tennishasasteroidproblem.blogspot.com, that fears the worst.

The problem, of course -- as mistrust of all champions is even further fueled by the fallen, duplicitous Armstrong -- is that finger-pointing can outpace hard evidence. That alone is a good argument for the additional testing considered by tennis authorities.

When a cow does jump over the moon -- or a tennis champ over the net -- we would like to believe he or she is clean.

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