Sharapova fights to save tennis career

Maria Sharapova has vowed to fight to save her tennis career.

The five-time grand slam winner announced on Monday she failed a drug test at the Australian Open. The 28-year-old Russian tested positive for meldonium following her quarter-final defeat against Serena Williams in Melbourne.

The medication, which Sharapova said she had legally taken throughout her career, was placed on the banned list by the World Anti-Doping Agency at the beginning of the year following “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.

Sharapova said on Monday she did not realise the substance was illegal, but took “full responsibility” for her actions.

She has since seen three major sponsors distance themselves from her, yet men’s world No.1 Novak Djokovic has given his support to Sharapova and said he hopes she “gets out of this stronger”.

And now Sharapova has detailed how she felt on Tuesday, in the wake of her announcement.

Posting on Facebook, she wrote: “On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn’t have to go through this, but I do – and I will.

“I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym.”

Sharapova related how she spotted photographers following her, and said she had read a number of social media messages presented to her in a collage by friends.

“I spent the afternoon reading them next to my dog, who couldn’t quite understand why this was more important than the walk he was expecting to take,” she said.

The former Wimbledon champion thanked her fans for “support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession”.

She added: “I’d like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn’t anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.”

Women’s tennis’ most bankable star found a friend in Djokovic.

He told “I obviously wish her all the best. I’ve known her for a long time. I feel for her with all that’s happening and I just hope she gets out of this stronger.”

However former women’s world No.1 Chris Evert has expressed surprise at the lack of support within tennis for Sharapova.

The predominant response has been shock at how one of tennis’ most professional and meticulous players could fail to take notice of warnings that a drug she had been taking for 10 years had been added to the banned list.

Evert, who won 18 grand slam singles titles, told ESPN: “Maria Sharapova has always isolated herself from the rest of the tennis world. She’s made that known, she can’t be friends with the players.

“I’m not seeing a lot of support from a lot of the players. I think everyone is being mum right now.

“Whether it’s shock or whether they don’t want to become involved or have an opinion about it, it’s sort of surprising that not a lot of players have shown their support for her.”

Sharapova has accepted a provisional suspension and will find out after a tribunal hearing in due course what sanction she faces.

The Russian admitted she received a link to the list of banned substances for 2016 in December but did not click on it.

Evert said: “It’s just incredulous to me because she has such a very comprehensive and a very professional team. For everybody in the tennis world, Maria Sharapova is the last person we’d expect this to happen to.”

The Russian has seen major sponsors Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche step back from their relationships from her.

The International Tennis Federation confirmed Sharapova missed five opportunities in December alone to learn that meldonium had become a banned substance.

Documents detailing the prohibited substances for 2016 were distributed to players on December 3 and posted on the ITF website four days later.

On December 11 the WTA notified players that the documents were available while the ITF provided players with a link to them on December 22 – the one Sharapova failed to click on.

Then on December 29, the WTA sent another reminder of the availability of the documents to players.

Sharapova said at her press conference that she had been prescribed meldonium for 10 years by her family doctor because of health issues such as an irregular heartbeat and a history of diabetes in her family.

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