Maria Sharapova Receives 2-Year Suspension for Doping Violation, Reveals Appeal

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured Columnist

Mar 7, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conference today at The LA Hotel Downtown. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The International Tennis Federation announced a two-year suspension for Maria Sharapova on June 8 after she violated the sport's anti-doping policy.

Sharapova, 29, was initially suspended from the sport in March for a failed test at the Australian Open. She admitted to taking the drug meldonium, which she had long used before it became a banned substance in 2016. In addition to the ban, she had to forfeit the prize money and rankings points she earned from her quarterfinals appearance in Melbourne.

"It is important at all times for players to be aware of the rules and to follow them. In this case, Maria has taken responsibility for her mistake from the outset. The WTA supports the process that the ITF and Maria have followed," the WTA said in a statement.

The ban will see Sharapova miss the Olympics too. As reported by Ben Reynolds of Sky Sports, the result of the tennis star's appeal against her two-year suspension has been delayed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport "so further evidence can be gathered and thoroughly reviewed." It means there will be no verdict before the Rio de Janeiro games.

An independent three-person panel reviewed the initial case and could have issued a ban of up to four years. At a two-day hearing on May 18 and 19, the ITF and Sharapova made their arguments.

In a statement released on her Facebook page, Sharapova said the tribunal ruled she did not "intentionally" violate doping rules. She also confirmed her intention to appeal the suspension, citing its length:

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.

On June 14, the Associated Press' Steve Wilson reported Sharapova officially appealed her suspension.

If the suspension is upheld, Sharapova will not be eligible to return until January 2018. The CAS may rule in favor of the tribunal's decision or reduce her suspension. However, she will remain out of action while the case is being heard.

In the independent tribunal's full case review, the conclusion called Sharapova "the sole author of her own misfortune" and put the onus on her for failing to verify meldonium's legality:

The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate contained a substance prohibited from 1 January 2016. However she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible. If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided. She is the sole author of her own misfortune.

In the event her suspension is upheld, one has to wonder whether Sharapova will return to tennis at all. She will be nearing her 31st birthday by the time she is eligible. While that's not geriatric in an era when Serena Williams is dominating at 34, tennis is historically inhospitable to even the greatest talents after 30. Roger Federer, 34, has won one Grand Slam since his 30th birthday.

"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," Sharapova said in her statement.

If she's away from the sport's day-to-day grind for two years, her opinion could change. Sharapova is successful off the court in terms of endorsements, with Nike lifting its suspension of her endorsement deal after the announcement, per Darren Rovell of ESPN:

Darren Rovell @darrenrovell

BREAKING: Nike has just lifted its suspension of Maria Sharapova's endorsement deal https://t.co/U6CmADtakv

Sharapova has also dealt with a number of injuries in her career—particularly to her shoulder.

At a minimum, Sharapova will be out for the remainder of 2016 under ITF rules. Her admission constitutes a one-year ban. We'll see on appeal if she'll be able to make her return in 2017.

Follow Tyler Conway (@jtylerconway) on Twitter.