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Maria Sharapova gets backing boost from racket sponsor Head

By Eleanor Crooks

Maria Sharapova's racket sponsor is backing the grand slam winner and is planning to extend its contract with her despite admitting to failing a drugs test.

Sharapova has used Head equipment since 2011 and the company's support is a significant boost after her announcement on Monday placed her relationship with other sponsors into doubt.

Head's chairman and chief executive John Eliasch said in a statement: "The honesty and courage (Sharapova) displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable.

"Head is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract. We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships in the weeks and months ahead.

"Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her."

The initial signs for Sharapova commercially did not look good, with major sponsors Nike and Porsche distancing themselves from her and watchmaker Tag Heuer cutting ties completely.

Evian and Supergoop, which she co-owns, offered support but Head's stance is the most positive news yet for the Russian, who tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open.

In a long statement that begins, "As a company, Head has a strict anti-doping policy", Eliasch sets out the reasons for standing by Sharapova.

He said: "Although it is beyond doubt that she tested positive for the use of a WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) banned substance, the circumstantial evidence is equally beyond doubt that the continued use of meldonium after Jan 1st, 2016 in the dosages she had been recommended, which were significantly short of performance-enhancing levels, was a manifest error by Maria.

"In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage through the use of mildronate, we further conclude this falls into the category of 'honest' mistakes."

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