Tennis great John McEnroe finds it hard to believe that Maria Sharapova was unaware she was taking a banned drug that led to her suspension, the seven-times grand slam champion said on Saturday.
The player-turned-commentator weighed in on the recent news that Sharapova tested positive for a newly banned drug meldonium that went into effect on January 1.
“Would be hard to believe that no one in her camp, the 25 or 30 people that work for her, or Maria herself had no idea that this happened,” McEnroe told the Tennis Channel Saturday during the BNP Paribas Open.
McEnroe noted that at the 1990 Australian Open he was ejected from a match after he did not realise a rule change that reduced a player’s default from four steps to just three.
“Nobody told me, so it is possible that Maria did not know that, though it’s extremely doubtful,” he said.
Sharapova, 28, is facing a suspension of up to four years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and has already lost numerous sponsorships in the aftermath.
The 28-year-old has denied missing five warnings that meldonium was becoming banned in 2016 and posted on Facebook a lengthy statement that she was “determined to fight back” against what she deemed misreporting of the facts of the case.
The International Tennis Federation and WTA alerted players five times in December to the banned list for 2016.
In her dramatic press conference last Monday, Sharapova only mentioned failing to click on a link on an email linking to the documents on December 22.
And she insisted the other missed opportunities were not ones she could necessarily have been expected to take, posting a picture of a complicated wallet card detailing banned substances.
The 28-year-old wrote: “This document had thousands of words on it, many of them technical, in small print. Should I have studied it? Yes. But if you saw this document, you would know what I mean.
“I make no excuses for not knowing about the ban. I already told you about the December 22, 2015 email I received. Its subject line was ‘Main Changes to the Tennis Anti-Doping Program for 2016’. I should have paid more attention to it.
“But the other ‘communications’? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts.”
As an example, Sharapova cited an email on December 18 that would have required clicking through a number of links to find the information.
However, this email was not one of the five warnings cited by the ITF and WTA.
Sharapova, who knew the drug as mildronate, also addressed comments from the manufacturer that it was only designed to be taken in courses of between four and six weeks.
That has been cited by some as suspicious given the Russian said she had been taking it, as prescribed by her doctor, for 10 years.
But she indicated she had only used it intermittently, in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines, saying: “I didn’t take the medicine every day. I took it the way my doctor recommended I take it and I took it in the low doses recommended.”
Sharapova will have a chance to put her case forward at a preliminary hearing later this month before an independent tribunal hears the case and decides on possible sanctions.
“I look forward to the ITF hearing at which time they will receive my detailed medical records,” she said.
Sharapova’s message came on the same day WADA confirmed there have been 99 positive tests for meldonium since the drug was added to its banned list on January 1.