The tennis star says she'll be immediately appealing the "unfairly harsh" suspension so she can get back on the court as soon as possible
It's a sad day for Maria Sharapova fans: The tennis star has just been suspended from tennis for two years by the International Tennis Federation after previously testing positive for the illegal, banned substance Mildronate. Sharapova immediately responded with a statement on her Facebook page that she'll be appealing the decision to the sport's highest court.
"Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance," she wrote. "The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not," she explains.
Sharapova has been on provisional suspension as of March, when she announced that she had failed the doping test back in January at this year's Australian Open (her sample was taken the day she lost in the quarterfinals to Serena Williams). "I take full responsibility for it," she said at a press conference. "I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down."
Mildronate (also sometimes referred to as Melodium) is newly banned for 2016—and Sharapova, who said the drug had been prescribed by a doctor for a magnesium deficiency and that there is a family history of diabetes, never saw the email which contained the list, according to reports.
While the drug is cleared for use and produced in Latvia, Melodium, which is an anti-ischemic drug to treat heart infections, is not approved by the FDA. While the effects of the drug aren't totally backed by evidence, since it works to increase and improve blood flow, it's possible it can increase an athlete's endurance. What's more, studies have found that it also may improve learning and memory, two brain functions that are key when it comes to playing tennis. At least six other athletes have tested positive for the drug this year.
"While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport," Sharapova explains in her post.
Not only has the suspension kept her off the court, but following Sharapova's March announcement, sponsors including Nike, Tag Heuer, and Porsche have distanced themselves from the tennis star.
"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova,'" Nike said in a statement. "We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation." Sharapova signed a deal with the brand in 2010 that would net her $70 million over eight years, according to USA Today.
Sharapova's contract with Tag Heuer ended in 2015, and she was in talks to extend the partnership. But "In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations, and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova," the watch company said in a statement. Porsche named Sharapova their first female ambassador back in 2013, but announced they are putting their relationship on hold "until further details are released and we can analyse the situation."
We're not afraid to say we're a bit disappointed: After all, the athlete and entrepreneur has had an impressive career on the court, snagging five Grand Slam trophies—including all four majors at least once. (That's the Australian Open, U.S. Open, Wimbledon and the French Open—the latter of which she won twice, most recently in 2014.) She's also been the highest-paid woman in the sport for a decade—Sharapova made $29.5 million in 2015, according to Forbes. (Find out how Sharapova and more of the highest-paid female athletes make their money.)
"I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days," Sharapova wrote. "I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible." Fingers crossed we'll be seeing her back in action soon.