LAST week Maria Sharapova announced that she had tested positive for the recently banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open in January. She claims she was unaware of the drug becoming banned as of 1st January and has been taking the drug for the past 10 years due a variety of health issues including an irregular EKG and an indication of diabetes.
She faces a ban of up to four years which, if handed down, would almost certainly mean the end of the soon-to-be 29-year-old’s playing career. Does she deserve to have the book thrown at her?
A lot hinges on whether her lawyer can prove that she has indeed been taking the drug for medical purposes and not for performance enhancement. If she’s telling the truth then one would assume that this shouldn’t be difficult as there should be plenty of medical records to refer to.
Her public announcement admitting that the result of the test was correct, without waiting for the adjudication process to be completed and without requesting that her B sample be tested, was a smart move that can only help sway the outcome in her favour.
The other key to receiving a reduced ban will be Sharapova showing that she was unaware of the drug being added to the banned list as, even if she fails to prove that her reasons for using the drug were innocent, the maximum penalty for unintentionally using a prohibited drug is two years.
The drug, originally developed in Latvia to improve blood flow for heart patients, was added to the list due to evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.
Surprisingly, dozens of athletes have already been caught using it since the start of the year. It seems absurd that so many athletes would risk harsh penalties if they were all aware of the drug becoming prohibited, for it would only be a matter of time before they were caught.
Therefore, the implication that Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) may not have done enough to communicate the changes to athletes could help Sharapova’s case.
That said, Sharapova admitted to receiving an email from Wada on 22nd December with a link to prohibited items for 2016, which she says she failed to look at, so it would be naive to think she will walk away unscathed.
In fact, regardless of the length of her suspension, she has already been punished financially in a way that few other athletes can, having lost lucrative endorsement deals with Nike, Porsche and Tag Heuer who all severed ties with the megastar upon hearing the news.
So whether she incomprehensibly risked her career and flouted the ban, or simply couldn’t be bothered clicking a few links to receive crucial information, this “huge mistake” will haunt Sharapova for many years to come.
TIP OF THE WEEK - Dealing with a body shot
One of the main reasons why most players don’t like being at the net is the fear of being hit by the ball and feeling that there’s nothing they can do about it.
There are two keys to being able to deal with a body shot. The first is always having a good ready position at the net. It is essential that you’re front-on to the net, have your knees bent, weight on the balls of your feet and that you’re doing mini split-steps constantly when expecting your opponent to strike, especially from nearby.
It seems counterintuitive to lean forward in this situation but you’re far more likely to get hit if you’re standing up straight which prevents you from being able to twist your upper body and lean to the side without losing balance.
The other key is using the continental grip so that you can fend balls off your body, primarily with backhand volleys. Using a frying-pan forehand grip may help you defend your face but that’s about it!
Only a proper grip will allow you to counteract shots aimed at your chest, waist, knees and feet.
Yes, it is tough to get used to but the time and effort invested will pay off when you become fearless at the net. See you on the court!
Dan Barrie is the Tennis Director at Bahrain Tennis Academy and is a USPTA Elite Professional. Email him at [email protected]