Australian tennis legend Pat Cash believes Maria Sharapova was lucky to escape with only a two-year ban for testing positive to performance-enhancing drugs.
Sharapova faced a maximum four-year ban for taking meldonium, however her suspension was reduced to two years based on her prompt admission of guilt in March.
However the 1987 Wimbledon winner said the ban should have been longer.
“My gut feeling is if you’re a professional athlete and you know you’re taking performance-enhancing drug, which clearly she was – then two years, I think she got off pretty lightly in that respect,” Cash told ABC radio.
Meanwhile, US sports goods giant Nike has said it will resume its sponsorship of Sharapova, insisting the banned star had not intentionally committed a doping offence.
In a short statement issued just hours after Sharapova was rocked by a two-year ban for meldonium use, Nike said it was lifting a suspension imposed in March after her drug case was first announced.
Sharapova has vowed to appeal her ban, which has been backdated to January 26, the same month the substance was placed on WADA’s list of banned substances.
However, part of the 29-year-old’s admission was her defence that she had been taking the drug for over a decade for medical reasons, sourcing it from a doctor in Russia.
Cash on Thursday questioned whether the five-time grand slam winner’s name would ever recover.
“I think her career and reputation is absolutely shot to bits,” he said.
“The question mark is she has been taking the drugs for so long, how much does it help her get through those hot days in Australia, those long matches in the stinking heat of New York or wherever else it happened to be?
“She’s going to be able to recover much better than the other athletes. How many matches has this helped her win? It wasn’t on the banned list but it was performance-enhancing.”
Sharapova, a former world No.1, said on Wednesday that she would appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension,” she posted on her Facebook page.
Her quarter-final placing at the Australian Open has also been taken from her, as has the prize money.