Maria Sharapova gets two-year ban for doping

Maria Sharapova

Tennis superstar Maria Sharapova has been banned from the sport for two years after she tested positive for the prohibited substance meldonium during the Australian Open in January, the International Tennis Federation announced Wednesday. The ban is retroactive to Jan. 26, and her run to the quarterfinals at the Australian Open – along with the 430 WTA points and $281,633 in prize money she earned – has been erased from the record books.

In a statement, Sharapova once again claimed that she did not intentionally violate tennis’s anti-doping rules and said she would appeal her ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. She also said that the ITF wanted to suspend her for four years, but the independent tribunal tasked with investigating her violation settled for two.

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances on Jan. 1 after athletes were given months of warnings. Sharapova, 29, said she started taking the substance in 2006 for magnesium deficiency and irregular EKG results, while also citing a family history of diabetes. She also said she did not read email notifications sent to her about the new prohibitions.

“It made me healthy, that’s why I continued to take it,” she said in March, at the time her provisional suspension was announced.

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Meldonium, which has not been approved for sale in the United States, was first developed in the then-Soviet republic of Latvia as a military tool at the height of the Cold War. It’s nominally used to treat heart disease and other chronic conditions in Russia and Eastern Europe, and over-the-counter sales of the drug in those countries reportedly spiked after the Russian-born Sharapova admitted taking it.

Hundreds of Russian athletes have tested positive for meldonium this year, leading some to question the haste with which WADA added the drug to its prohibited list. It’s unclear how long it takes for meldonium to exit an athlete’s system, and WADA told the world’s sporting federations in April that athletes who have tested positive for meldonium may be able to avoid sanctions if they can prove they took it before it was banned on Jan. 1.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, lost her sponsorship deals with Nike, Porsche and Tag Heuer after her provisional suspension was announced in March. After 11 years as the world’s highest-paid female athlete, she was surpassed this year by fellow tennis player Serena Williams.