On Tuesday morning, the world learned that Maria Sharapova’s two-year suspension from the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after testing positive for meldonium was lowered to 15 months. On Tuesday night, already busy making the press rounds to recover her once-untainted career, she appeared on the Charlie Rose's show on PBS. (See the full show here.)
Sharapova described the ordeal from her perspective for the first time since announcing her failed drug test in March.
“I went through so many different emotions, from finding out when I received the first email that I had taken the substance,” she said. “It came as a shock to me. I said, 'How did I not know about this?' I went through this shock, anger, sadness, and then—I don’t know—something inside of me went above everything. I felt like it was something ... almost like the process of going through a break-up.”
The former world No. 1 explained that she had taken the over-the-counter medication as prescribed by a doctor for 10 years after experiencing irregular EKGs as a teenager. She said the substance is “absolutely not” a performance enhancer, and is more likened to aspirin among the “millions and millions” of people who take it in Eastern Europe.
The biggest revelation in the 34-minute show had to be Sharapova’s darkened attitude toward the ITF, who she says wanted to hand down a four-year ban. Her first hearing with the ITF was in June, and she said the panel was not neutral.
When asked if she thinks the ITF wanted to make an example of her, she said, “I’m starting to think that, yes.”
At the end of the year, players receive emails notifying them of the substances that are prohibited.
“The notifications were completely inadequate,” Sharapova said. “It was false advertisement. The emails that we had received, saying main changes to the anti-doping rules had no additions to the prohibited list, had no signs, no warnings.”
Furthermore, she said that she’s surrounded by ITF employees all the time on tour—particularly last November at the Fed Cup final—yet no one notified her directly of the upcoming change despite knowing that she was taking meldonium.
Taking her case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in October was an optimistic move, given they had overturned the previous five ITF cases.
“I was fighting for my right to get back to the court by making an honest mistake, but I was also fighting an organization that wanted to ban me for four years,” she said. “And that was wrong. That was wrong because they didn’t do their part.”
The competitive spirit inside the five-time Grand Slam champion is far from dormant. She said she believes she gets tougher in the face of adversity, and that she has something inside of her that builds up immunity to pain, be it physical (like her shoulder surgery) or mental.
The Russian was once the highest-paid female athlete on the planet, and it’ll be interesting to see if she returns toward the top of the list. A few of her sponsors (Porsche, Nike and Tag Heuer) cut ties with her in March, but Nike returned, and Head and Evian have stood beside her throughout. More than anything, it will be fascinating to see if she can contend for Grand Slams again.
Sharapova will be eligible to play on tour on April 26, 2017, a week after her 30th birthday. You’ll see her on court sooner, though, as she is scheduled to appear in an exhibition match on Oct. 10 for World TeamTennis Smash Hits in Las Vegas.
“My career was never going to end this way—never,” she said. “From the first day I got that letter, that was when I started my comeback."