Maria Sharapova claims the International Tennis Federation hearing into her doping violation was “not neutral” and that the sports governing body tried to make an example of her.
The 29-year-old former Wimbledon champion and world No.1 tested positive for the drug meldonium in January and was then sanctioned by the ITF in June.
But on Tuesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced a reduction in the five-time Grand Slam winner’s two-year doping ban to just 15 months.
Sharapova’s lawyer John Haggerty described the CAS ruling as a “stunning repudiation of the ITF”, while in her social media accounts Sharapova said she was “counting the days until I can return to the court”.
The result is a partial victory for the world’s highest-earning female athlete and a setback for the ITF and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
The three-man panel of CAS experts said it did “not agree with many of the conclusions of the (ITF) tribunal” and the federation has already seen the court reduce recent doping bans for ATP Tour players Marin Cilic and Viktor Troicki.
The ITF was also chastised by the panel for not properly informing players of changes to WADA’s banned list.
Sharapova’s lawyers had asked for an immediate reinstatement, but deep down they will know the nine-month reduction is the most they could have expected as she did not meet all the criteria for a “no significant fault” reduction of 50 per cent.
In her first television interview since the CAS ruling, Sharapova was again critical of the ITF.
“I got a 24-month suspension, but they (ITF) wanted four years for me,” Sharapova told American broadcaster PBS.
“I went through the ITF hearing, which was in front of an arbitration (panel) which was chosen by the ITF.
“I am at a hearing (in London) knowing the people I am speaking to were chosen by the people that I am actually in a fight with.
“They call that neutral? That is not neutral. CAS is neutral and this is what CAS has awarded to me.”
Asked by interviewer Charlie Rose if she thought the ITF were trying to make an example of her, Sharapova replied: “I never wanted to believe that, but I am starting to think that.”
Sharapova revealed she had been able to refocus during her enforced absence.
“I have not thought about my game in a while,” she said.
“I have been very occupied. I have not been home that much, and have travelled, done things I did not have the opportunity to do in a time where I did not know where my future would be. I actually felt like I had a schedule and plan.
When she eventually returns to competitive tennis, Sharapova may need to rapidly accumulate ranking points to qualify for the 2017 French Open and Wimbledon, unless she is handed wildcards.