Maria Sharapova, one of the top female athletes of her generation, has been suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for meldonium, a substance that has been banned since January 1.
Sharapova, 29, claimed she had been taking meldonium since 2006 for heart issues and a magnesium deficiency. She also said she did not know meldonium had been recently added to the banned-substance list and that she knew the drug by its trade name, Mildronate.
Should we buy these excuses?
“No, I don’t,” former tennis great James Blake said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I don’t think many others do, and I say that having no ill-will toward her. I’ve always gotten along with her, but none of her excuses really hold water with me. The fact that she didn’t know that it was on the banned substance list – the biggest issue that came out of this hearing for me was whether or not she disclosed on her forms whether she took it. And if she did, I would have said, ‘Be as lenient as you want to be with her because she didn’t know that it was wrong to take it.’ Even if she was trying to get an edge and she knew it was performance-enhancing but she knew it was legal, to me, that’s like drinking Gatorade. You know it’s good for you or something, but it’s legal. Everyone can do it. If she disclosed it on her forms when she was getting drug-tested and said, ‘Yeah, I’m taking this,’ and did that this year without knowing that it was illegal, then I would have said be lenient.
“But she hasn’t disclosed it for over three years,” Blake said. “So, to me, that says you knew what you were doing was wrong. You knew they couldn’t catch you before because it wasn’t legal and now maybe you just didn’t know that you were going to get caught, but you didn’t want to write down that you were taking it. When I took those tests, I would write down that I took vitamin C, that I took an Advil – something as simple and benign as that because you want to disclose everything you’re taking, just in case something is ever illegal. You want to let them know everything you took, and if she’s not letting them know, then to me, that means she had an idea of what she was doing.”
Sharapova owns a career Grand Slam. She won Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, the Australian in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014.
“If I was one of the female players on tour and I played against her, I’d be pretty upset at this point,” Blake said. “I don’t think you can take slams away because what she was doing at that time was legal. She just wasn’t disclosing it. Anyone could have been taking it, so I don’t think you can take that away. I may have just been upset playing long matches against her and knowing that she had a little bit of an edge – or a lot of an edge. I really have no idea how much of an effect it has, but she clearly felt that it was giving her an edge. Otherwise I don’t think that she would have kept taking a heart medication that she really seems like she didn’t need – unless she felt like it was giving her an edge. It was doing something legal at the time. That’s why I think if she had stopped in January, she never would have gotten in trouble and nothing would have happened and she could have claimed that everything she did was legal and it’s fine. I don’t think you take away her slams. I don’t think you take away her great career. I think she’ll be in Newport, first-ballot Hall of Famer. But it’s unfortunate, and I think the girls are not going to take too kindly to when she does come back on tour.”