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Maria Sharapova faces her huge date with destiny in London over failed drug test

By Matt Slater

Maria Sharapova faces an anti-doping panel in London today knowing she will not benefit from recent confusion surrounding the drug she tested positive for in January.

The 29-year-old Russian stunned the tennis world in March when she announced that she had failed a test for meldonium on January 26, the day she lost an Australian Open quarter-final to Serena Williams.

The Latvian-made heart disease medication had only been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on January 1 but had been on a watch list for over a year and all national anti-doping agencies were told in October that it would be banned.

With use of meldonium widespread across eastern Europe, Sharapova's case was the most high-profile in an avalanche of positives in the first four months of the year. As of early May, WADA said there had been 288 positive samples.

But in April, the agency was forced to make an embarrassing climbdown when it admitted there was a lack of scientific certainty on how long it takes for the drug to be completely excreted.

Early suggestions that it should be out of an athlete's system within days gave way to fears it could be present in long-term users, in trace amounts, for weeks, if not months.

This led WADA to issue new guidance, directing that samples collected before March 1 below a certain concentration could be discarded, as the athlete might be able to prove they had stopped taking it in 2015.

Last month, Belarusian doubles specialist Sergey Betov, who also tested positive at the Australian Open, was cleared by the International Tennis Federation on these grounds.

This prompted some to speculate that five-time grand slam winner Sharapova could escape without punishment, which was always mistaken as both she and her lawyer John Haggerty had already admitted she had been taking it, on her doctor's advice, throughout January.

Meanwhile, former world number one Caroline Wozniacki has withdrawn from the French Open - which starts on Sunday - due to her ongoing struggles with an ankle injury.

Wozniacki pulled out of recent clay-court tournaments in Madrid and Rome as she battles to overcome a troublesome right ankle.

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