Tuesday night was to be the culmination of World Tennis Day when Serena Williams took on Caroline Wozniacki and Stan Wawrinka faced Gael Monfils at Madison Square Garden in the BNP Paribas Showdown.
Instead, it was Day 2 of the Maria Sharapova drug saga after she had admitted at a media conference in Los Angeles on Monday that she had failed a test at the Australian Open for the drug meldonium, a medicine she said she had been taking for 10 years but was included in the list of banned substances issued by the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2016. WADA now considers meldonium, a blood flow enhancing drug, to be performance enhancing.
Sharapova, who previously announced she was pulling out of next week’s tournament at Indian Wells with a left forearm injury, has been provisionally suspended by the ITF pending an investigation to address the violation. Sharapova said she had not looked at the new list of banned substances for 2016, though she did say she received it.
Williams and Wozniacki addressed the situation Tuesday morning at the Garden, showing sympathy along with surprise.
“Like everyone else, most people were surprised and shocked,” Williams said. “But most people are happy with the fact she was up front with what she had done in terms of what she had neglected. With that being said, she’s taking responsibility, which she was ready to do.”
Wozniacki expressed surprise that Sharapova hadn’t checked the drugs list when she received it.
“Any time we take medication, we double and triple check,” Wozniacki said. “Sometimes even a thing like cough drops and nasal spray can be on the list. So as athletes we make sure not to take something that would put us in a bad situation.”
Sharapova is the highest earning woman in sports, with endorsement deals believed to be worth about $30 million. Nike announced it was suspending its relationship with Sharapova “while the investigation continues,” the company said in a statement. Porsche also issued a statement saying it was suspending its agreements and TAG Heuer said it was suspending negotiations for a new agreement after one expired at the end of 2015.
“They’re successful; they make their own decisions,” Williams said of Nike’s move. “They obviously know how to make decisions.”
After the Los Angeles news conference, Sharapova’s attorney John Haggerty said PED use can result in a four-year ban and unintentional use can be two years. He said that with the mitigating circumstances, he believed it could be much less.
“Certainly one of the things we plan to present to the ITF is all of Maria’s medical records and the long history she had of being recommended to take this medication by her family doctor for very well-established medical conditions,” Haggerty told reporters in Los Angeles.
Sharapova could ask for what is called a therapeutic use exemption (TUE), saying that there was a legitimate health reason to take the drug. It is extremely rare for the International Tennis Federation and WADA to retroactively issue a TUE.
After saying she was taking full responsibility for the situation, a contrite Sharapova added: “I don’t want to end my career this way and really hope that I’ll be given another chance.”
Justine Henin, who was elected to the Tennis Hall of Fame on Tuesday, said on a conference call, “I think we are all a little bit sad and disappointed about the situation. It’s never good for the game.”