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Maria Sharapova drug test failure: Tennis star feels heat as cost adds up

Burning questions grow after big-money sponsors pull plug

By Paul Newman

Published 09/03/2016

Towering achievement:Maria Sharapova shows off the trophy after her second win at the French Open in Paris
Towering achievement:Maria Sharapova shows off the trophy after her second win at the French Open in Paris
Maria Sharapova is looking to win another Grand Slam
Huge error: Maria Sharapova, who could be banned for two years, announces that she didn't realise Meldonium is prohibited
Maria Sharapova says she accepts that she has failed a drugs test
Maria Sharapova of Russia serves in her third round match against Lauren Davis
Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova
Short shrift: Maria Sharapova ignored grunting question
Maria Sharapova
Under fire: Maria Sharapova beat Coco Vandeweghe in three sets but was accused of moving during her rival's serve
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Point taken: Maria Sharapova on her way to victory
Johanna Konta in action against Maria Sharapova during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Maria Sharapova in action against Johanna Konta during the First round women's singles during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts after winning her women's singles first round match against Britain's Johanna Kontaduring on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova (L) shakes hands with Britain's Johanna Konta after winning their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Johanna Konta serves to Russia's Maria Sharapova during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Johanna Konta of Great Britain serves in her Ladiess Singles first round match against Maria Sharapova of Russia during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand in her Ladiess Singles first round match against Johanna Konta of Great Britain during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova serves in her Ladies Singles first round match against Johanna Konta (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Russia's Maria Sharapova serves to Britain's Johanna Konta during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova returns to Britain's Johanna Konta during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Maria Sharapova in action Johanna Konta during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Maria Sharapova of Russia serves in her Ladies Singles first round match against Johanna Konta of Great Britain during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
On song: Jo Konta is ready to face Maria Sharapova
Making a racket: Maria Sharapova returns a shot in her Wimbledon build-up
Maria Sharapova has reached three consecutive finals at Roland Garros
Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova defeated seventh seed Eugenie Bouchard 6-3 6-2 in 78 minutes
Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates winning against Caria Suarez Navarro of the Spain during day five of the China Open at the China National Tennis Center on October 1, 2014 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Emmanuel Wong/Getty Images)
Caroline Wozniacki
Maria Sharapova
Maria Sharapova
Going home: Reality begins to sink in for Maria Sharapova after the Russian was well beaten by Angelique Kerber
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HSBC is the main sponsor of Wimbledon, where Maria Sharapova plays her first match today
Maria Sharapova is picked up by racing driver Mark Webber and driven to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) pre-Wimbledon party
Maria Sharapova is picked up by racing driver Mark Webber and driven to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Pre-Wimbledon Party
Maria Sharapova
Open race: Maria Sharapova celebrates winning her women's singles semi-final match against Eugenie Bouchard at the French Open
Sealed with a kiss: Maria Sharapova celebrates her win yesterday
Maria Sharapova of Russia serves during her women's singles match against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria on day four of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 28, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a backhand during the final against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day seven of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2014 at Porsche-Arena on April 27, 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates victory in the final against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day seven of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2014 at Porsche-Arena on April 27, 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

The number of questions Maria Sharapova will have to answer following her failed drugs test was growing last night as some of the Russian's biggest sponsors distanced themselves from a player who 24 hours earlier had been the most marketable woman in world sport.

Nike and Porsche suspended their deals with the former World No.1, who admitted on Monday that she had tested positive for Meldonium, a drug which she said she had taken on medical advice for 10 years.

Sharapova accepted full responsibility for failing to read a notice sent to her in December by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which added the drug to its banned list this year because of fears that it was being used to enhance performances.

When an ITF tribunal hears Sharapova's case it will want to know whether the former Wimbledon champion disclosed at doping controls that she was taking the drug, as players are required to do. Sharapova said she had been prescribed the drug in 2006 after being diagnosed with early signs of diabetes, heart irregularities and a magnesium deficiency.

The tribunal will also be keen to hear how regularly Sharapova had taken the drug, especially as the Latvian manufacturers said yesterday that it was normally prescribed for periods of just four to six weeks, though the treatment can be repeated two or three times a year.

The drug is not licensed in the United States, where Sharapova lives.

Sharapova, who faces a two-year ban, is the latest in a growing line of athletes, particularly from Russia, who have tested positive for Meldonium.

One study was said to have found traces of the drug in 17 per cent of more than 4,000 samples taken from Russian athletes last year. Another study is said to have found it in 2.2 per cent of random urine samples taken from professional athletes.

Nick Wojek, head of science and medicine at UK Anti-Doping, said: "It's not a drug used in western Europe and America as a therapeutic drug, so you'd think that's a very high percentage (2.2 per cent). I think it would infer...that there would be some misuse within that number."

It also emerged last night that Meldonium was regularly given to Soviet troops to increase their stamina and deal with oxygen deprivation when they fought in the mountains of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Nike, which in 2010 agreed an eight-year contract with Sharapova worth more than £49m in the biggest sponsorship deal ever given to a woman athlete, said in suspending its ties with her that it was "saddened and surprised".

Of her other sponsors, Porsche expressed "regret" in suspending its deal, Tag Heuer said it would not seek to renew its contract and Evian said it would monitor developments.

There was a distinct lack of support for Sharapova among her fellow players.

Ex World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki - former fiancee of Ulster golfing superstar Rory McIlroy - urged athletes to take all necessary precautions following Sharapova's suspension.

Speaking at a press conference in New York, the Danish tennis star said athletes should be extra careful to check their medications.

"Any time we take any medication I think we double and triple and quadruple check because sometimes even things like cough drops and nasal sprays can be on the list," she said.

"So I think as athletes we always make sure to really make sure there is nothing in it that could put us in a bad situation."

While Serena Williams - a friend of Wozniacki - said that Sharapova had been "very honest" and showed "a lot of courage", one of her predecessors as World No.1, Jennifer Capriati, said she was "extremely angry and disappointed".

Capriati said that she had "never opted to cheat no matter what" and had not had the "high-priced team of (doctors) that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system".

Williams and Sharapova have endured a testy relationship at the top of the sport.

Belfast Telegraph

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