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Maria Sharapova relishing her April return after doping ban is reduced

By Matt Slater

Maria Sharapova has had her doping ban reduced from two years to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The 29-year-old tested positive for the heart-boosting drug Meldonium in January at the Australian Open and was given a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in June.

But CAS, sport's highest court, announced it has reduced that by nine months, meaning the five-time Grand Slam winner will be eligible to play again on April 26, 2017, four weeks before the French Open.

In a statement issued by her agents, the Russian said: "I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my (provisional) suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.

"In so many ways I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

Noting that CAS' three-man panel ruled that "it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the (ITF) tribunal", Sharapova - who had appealed the ban length and not the guilty verdict - said she had learned from this episode and hoped her sport's governing body had too.

"I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last 10 years was no longer allowed," she added.

"But I also learned how much better other federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in eastern Europe where Mildronate (its trade name) is commonly taken by millions of people.

"I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other federations did so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through."

And Sharapova's racket manufacturer Head launched a remarkable defence of the Russian.

In contrast to other sponsors including Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, Head had stuck by her. Alongside a picture of Sharapova, the company tweeted yesterday: "Congratulations to @MariaSharapova! #WeStoodWithMaria #headtennis".

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