The International Tennis Federation might have finally woken up.
The past couple of years, as PED-talk has taken over the sports world, things have been rather quiet on the tennis front.
Everyone, including the players, have been clear that the system needs an overhaul.
But, last week the ITF dropped a bomb on the tennis community when they announced that 27-year-old Viktor Troicki had been suspended from the ATP World Tour for 18 months for failing to give a blood test at the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters earlier this year.
Nobody knows yet if this is a one-off muscle flex, or a sign of things to come. But the Troicki case is certainly a significant one, and the ITF seems to be sending a message to other players that they have power and are not afraid to (occasionally and erratically) wield it.
Troicki is a high-profile player, at least compared to the lowly players that the ITF usually "catches." Though he's currently ranked No. 56 in the world, the Serb was as high as No. 12 in 2011. He is a veteran on the tour and has close ties to many top players, including his Davis Cup teammate Novak Djokovic.
In fact, Djokovic even signed a witness statement to support Troicki.
This case further points out the inadequacy in blood testing in tennis. Reports confirmed that Troicki had only taken five blood tests in his entire 10 years as an ATP player. That is an absurdly low number, and confirms that the ITF anti-doping program has a long way to go.
Troicki's claiming innocence because he never actually failed a blood test. He stated that he didn't want to give blood when it was initially requested because he did not feel well and has a big fear of needles. However, he did give a blood test the next morning, and is sticking by the fact that this blood test was negative so he should not be banned.
But, as the Lance Armstrong case proved, negative tests are not an assurance that the player is clean, especially when the systems that are put in place to test players are sub-par.
Refusing to take a blood test is a huge deal, and though the details surrounding the refusal have turned into a bit of a "he-said, she-said" debacle, the reality remains that a blood test is not effective if it is delayed or pre-announced.
The fact that Troicki passed the blood test taken the next day is in no way an indication that he would have passed the initial one. While the severity of the ban can certainly be questioned, a suspension was definitely in order.
And so, following one of the biggest-profile names to receive a doping ban in years, the tennis community has to wonder: Has the Pandora's Box of PED in tennis been opened?
In the immediate aftermath, it certainly seems like it has.
The day after the Troicki ban was officially announced, rumors circulated from a reliable Croatian newspaper that Marin Cilic, the No. 15 player in the world, has been serving a three-month ban for illegal substances found in his system during the Munich tournament in April.
Though the ITF has not confirmed the Cilic suspension yet, there has been no denial from the Cilic camp or the ITF, and an official announcement is expected this week.
Also, the whistleblower for the Biogenesis clinic scandal that has rocked the MLB community has come forward and said that unnamed tennis players are among the other athletes who had been treated at the Miami clinic.
That's a lot of attention on doping in tennis in just the span of a week, and considering things like this usually have a snowball effect, the sport looks to be in for a rude awakening.
Right now, there are astronomically more questions than answers.
But one thing is for sure: The Troicki ban isn't solely about the dangers of doping. Rather, it's about the importance creating and buying into a system that will protect the athletes and the sport of tennis as a whole.
In order for that to happen, the rules need to be much clearer than they are now, the tests have to be more frequent and there has to be fool-proof accountability for everyone involved.
This suspension is certainly a start, but the next few months will (hopefully) be a clear indication about how far tennis has to go to ensure that the sport is truly clean.
In the complicated world of tennis and PED, things might have to get worse before they get better.
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