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Maria Sharapova drugs test failure: Russian has got several questions to answer

By Robert Jones

Has there ever been a tennis player more assured in her dealings with the media than Maria Sharapova?

Some of us have seen feisty New York fashion writers eating out of her hand at a clothes launch in a swish boutique in Manhattan; critics of her readiness to ply children with her "Sugarpova" confectionery brushed aside at a publicity event by the River Yarra in Melbourne; and humble sports reporters around the world put in their place for asking questions she considered inappropriate.

All done, of course, with the smile for which sponsors have been willing to pay millions of dollars in exchange for her endorsement of their products.

Sharapova gave another masterclass in public relations in front of the cameras in a Los Angeles hotel on Monday.

Richard Ings, a former head of both the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority and the ATP's anti-doping programme, thought Sharapova handled the press conference brilliantly. "That's the play book if you ever face a positive drugs test," he said. "Transparent and sorry."

Although Sharapova has won the opening exchanges, she has many questions to answer. Was this medication, which the anti-doping authorities realised was being used by some athletes to enhance performance and which is not licensed in the United States, the appropriate treatment for the medical problems she claimed?

If so, how often was she taking Meldonium, which the manufacturers say should be used for between four and six weeks, up to three times a year?

One of the keys to Sharapova's fate could be the question as to whether she ever informed drugs testers that she was taking Meldonium. Athletes are required to reveal whatever medication they are taking, whether it is banned or not.

Finally, are we to believe that Sharapova has performed brilliantly at the highest level for 10 years despite heart and diabetes-related problems of which we were never aware?

The Sharapova publicity machine might need to work overtime. Besides, whatever is said in public could be of little consequence once Sharapova's case is heard behind the closed doors of a tribunal hearing.

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