Former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova yesterday saw her 24-month ban from tennis shortened to 15 months following an appeal to CAS, or the Council of Arbitration of Sports.
Now, the Russian-American ace has, in an interview, said she felt targeted by the ITF. Speaking to seasoned American talk show host Charlie Rose, Sharapova, who was raised and has lived in Florida since emigrating to the United States in 1994, said she was “made an example of” in the proceedings.
"I was so shocked when I received the email," she says, speaking of the email she received from the International Tennis Federation informing her of the ban. "Here was a substance (meldonium) that I had been taking for ten years, and here, I have a mail from the ITF saying I had, I had this violation.”
She avered that she ‘still’ did not see meldonium (mildronate) as a performance enhancer, despite it having been added to the list of banned substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA. “It’s in the essential list in Russia, it is as common as aspirin, I have been taking it for 10 years for medical reasons, I was 18 years old, had just won a Grand Slam,” she went on.
“I took it under my doctor’s orders,” she reiterated, “and that’s how I did it for years.”
Rose quizzed Sharapova on her initial 24-month suspension. The final declaration had acknowledged Sharapova could “in no way be considered an international doper,” which led to Rose asking the Russian if she felt the initial sentencing had been deserved.
“I got 24 months, but they wanted four years," Sharapova said in the interview, pointing out that she had felt targeted and scapegoated. “I went through the ITF hearing, in front of an arbitration chosen by the ITF. I’m in a hearing, knowing the people I’m speaking to.... were chosen by the people I’m in a fight with." The Russian strongly felt a bias against her in the hearing, a fact she touched on repeatedly.
“I’m not sure that’s neutral.”
“CAS (the Council for Arbitration of Sports) is neutral, they have given me the 9-month reduction. This is not neutral.”
Going on to accuse the ITF of bias, Sharapova said “I didn’t want to believe I was being made an example of, but I am beginning to!”
But the tennis star also took some positives from the ban. “I have a schedule, I have a plan, I’ve been doing a lot of things that I didn’t do before.” Although a number of sponsors dropped the ace following the meldonium revelations, Sharapova has several other endorsement deals, and has been active on that circuit instead.
“I’ve been traveling a lot and handling business,” the 29-year-old, who owns her own range of confectionery, named Sugarpova, told Charlie Rose. “I now know what weekends feel like. For the first time I know, there’s a Saturday, there’s a Sunday. Earlier, those days were Grand Slam finals, so that’s what you were waiting for!”
She stressed on the value of having “time for myself.” Describing an incident where she found the motivation to attend a spinning class in the wake of the initial revelations as her watershed moment, Sharapova said she used it as a cornerstone for her goals going forward.
“I have never used the word rejection in my life. I don't believe in nos. I was born to be a warrior," Sharapova ended.
Her ban stands ineffective from the 25th of April, 2017.