Virginie Bouyer/Tennis Magazine/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire

Maria Sharapova has ban reduced to 15 months, can return in April

Virginie Bouyer/Tennis Magazine/Panoramic/Icon Sportswire

Though Maria Sharapova’s suspension continues, the saga and circus around it can finally end.

The Court of Arbitration released their ruling in Sharapova’s appeal on Tuesday, declaring that the five-time Grand Slam champion will have her two year suspension reduced to 15 months, making her eligible to return on April 26, 2017, exactly a week after her 30th birthday.

Sharapova initially tested positive for mildronate/meldonium at the Australian Open, where she lost to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. Sharapova had been legally taking the substance for a decade, but it was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list at the start of the year, and much of Sharapova’s appeal (both to the authorities and in the court of public opinion) was built around the lack of communication from the International Tennis Federation as well as pinning the errors on people in her camp.

That argument seemed to work, as the CAS determined Sharapova, while ultimately responsible, was at “no significant fault.”

The ruling comes a day after ESPN’s Outside the Lines published an extensive report on the sport’s porous drug testing, merely confirming and adding details to what those who follow the sport already knew.

Mildronate/meldonium has been at the center of a year-long controversy, as hundreds of athletes, especially Russians, tested positive for it. That was followed by findings that WADA may have put the cart before the horse, as the drug can remain in the body long enough to where it triggered positive tests that weren’t warranted.

For example, fellow tennis player Varvara Lepchenko, an American with Russian and Ukranian roots, served a brief unannounced ban, causing a confusing situation where Lepchenko was suddenly absent and denied it was a suspension. It remained unconfirmed until last month when the ITF said she bore “no fault or negligence” due to declining amounts taken from 2015 causing a positive test in early January.

Sharapova will be able to return during the clay season (which is now her best surface) in either Prague or Rabat, minor tournaments that will surely be emptying their purses to woo her via appearance fees. It would be a surprise if she did not go to one of them as a warm-up for Madrid, one of her best events in recent years. Having been out for over a year, Sharapova will have no ranking points, but she’ll have absolutely no problem being given wild cards by tournament directors, and unlike Juan Martin del Potro having to choose his events wisely, she has the benefit of a quirky rule:

Various parties involved released statements, including a controversial one from her racquet sponsor Head. They can be seen below:

(Update: Porsche also issued a statement that appears to hint at maintaining their relationship with Sharapova after putting it on temporary hold.)


Maria Sharapova has ban reduced to 15 months, can return in April

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