By Barry Janoff
March 7, 2016: Stating that "I made a a huge mistake . . . I have to take full responsibility," tennis star Maria Sharapova said during a self-called press conference that she had received a letter from the International Tennis Federation telling her she had failed a drug test during the Australian Open.
Sharapova, ranked No. 7 in the world, said that the failed drug test was for anti-ischemic drug Mildronate, also known as meldonium, used to counteract a lack of blood flow.
The visibly shaken but stoic Sharapova said that she had been taking the drug "for ten years."
ITF said late last year it would be adding meldonium to its list of banned drugs via a change in policy that officially took affect Jan. 1.
The Australian Open was played Jan. 18-31. Sharapova lost in the quarter-finals of that Grand Slam to Serena Williams.
Sharapova said that she received notification from the World Anti-Doping Agency on Dec. 22 that the drug would be banned beginning Jan. 1.
"I received an e-mail on 22 December from WADA about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items . . . I didn't click on that link."
According to Sharapova, she "continued to take it (because) it made me feel healthy."
Sharapova said that she used the drug as prescribed by a doctor since 2006 because she was “getting sick very often, and I had a magnesium deficiency. I also had an irregular EKG results, and I have a family history of diabetes.”
According to Sharapova, "I have to take full responsibility for it. It's my body and I have to be responsible for what I put in my body.
"I have been very open and honest about many things, I take great responsibility in my job . . . I made a huge mistake."
The impact could be far-reaching for Sharapova, her career, her marketing partners, her fans and for tennis. She is the highest-paid female athlete in the world, topping $23 million in endorsements alone, according to Forbes.
A played found to use a banned drug could be suspended for upward of four years. In this case, Sharapova might receive a two-year ban due to mitigating circumstances, according to industry analysts.
Sharapova's endorsements include Nike, Porsche, Evian, Tag Heuer, Avon and Head. She also has other off-the-court income from such investments as candy company Sugarpova, which she founded.
(Editor's note: Tag Heuer said it would not continue discussions to renew its contract with the tennis player, which the company said expired at the end of 2015; both Nike and Porsche said they would "suspend" or "postpone" activiations with her, but did not end their contracts with her.)
Her actions would also affect marketing partners and sponsors of the WTA, other tennis groups and tournaments and, this year, partners of the Summer Olympics in Rio, where she was expected to represent her native Russia.
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, played sporadically toward the end of last year, including missing the U.S. Open Grand Slam due to injuries and has not played competitively since the Australian Open.
According to a statement from WADA, "On 26 January 2016, Ms Sharapova provided an anti-doping sample to the TADP (Tennis Anti-Doping Program) in association with her participation in the 2016 Australian Open.
"That sample was analyzed by a World Anti-Doping Agency accredited laboratory, which returned a positive for meldonium, which is a prohibited substance under the WADA Code and, therefore also the TADP.
"In accordance with Article 8.1.1 of the TADP, Ms Sharapova was charged on 2 March with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation.
"I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way and I hope that I will be given another chance to play this game."
"Ms Sharapova has accepted the finding of meldonium in her sample collected on 26 January.
"As meldonium is a non-specified substance under the WADA (and, therefore, TADP) list of Prohibited Substances and Prohibited Methods, Ms Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case."
Many believed that she had called the press conference to reveal that she was retiring, much as NFL star Peyton Manning had done earlier in the day.
"I know many of you thought I'd be announcing my retirement," she said. "If I was ever going to announce my retirement, it would not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with a fairly ugly carpet."
On a more somber note, Sharapova said, "I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way and I hope that I will be given another chance to play this game again."
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