Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova has been positioned as a chief rival to sisters Venus and Serena Williams, but the world’s richest female athlete faces a possible two-year ban from the sport.
Sharapova admitted to failing a drug test via her use of a formerly legal substance and claims she did not know that the substance was forbidden, CNN reports.
Sharapova, the No. 7 ranked women’s single player in the world, held a press conference Monday in what was initially speculated as a retirement announcement via her website. However, the 28-year-old shared details of her positive drug test that was discovered back in January after losing to Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
A sombre looking Sharapova, speaking at a press conference in Los Angeles Monday, said she’d been taking the drug, meldonium, since 2006 and didn’t realize it was declared a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the start of 2016.
The International Tennis Federation, about an hour after her admission, then said on its website that the 28-year old would be provisionally banned from March 12 “pending determination of the case.” The usual penalty for first-time offenders is two years.
The failed drug test came on January 26 — after Sharapova lost to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals — and she was charged with an anti-doping violation on March 2, the governing body additionally said.
Sharapova revealed that she received a letter from the International Tennis Federation noting her drug test failure. Without ducking responsibility, the five-time grand slam champion stepped up and accepted her folly. She added that for the past 10 years, she was taking a medicine called mildronate prescribed by a family doctor.
The player claims she was unaware the drug was also named meldonium, nor did she know it was banned by the WADA. Meldonium was added to WADA’s banned substance list on Jan. 1, but Sharapova would have known this had she not ignored an email in December from the WADA that contained that information.
Sharapova’s announcement comes at the same time as allegations that several top players have been fixing matches after heavy bets were placed against them, causing retiring Australian player Lleyton Hewitt to call the charges that he also tanked matches absurd.