Maria Sharapova goes on offensive before tour return in two weeks

by: Kamakshi Tandon | April 14, 2017

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“If the players keep criticizing me, then that is not correct,” said the Russian. (AP)

Returning to the WTA tour in two weeks at the Porsche Grand Prix after a 15-month doping suspension, Maria Sharapova has called for other players to stop criticizing her, and said authorities should have done more to inform her of a change in rules.

At the 2016 Australian Open, the 29-year-old Russian tested positive for meldonium. Sharapova said she had taking the drug for years because of a heart condition and did not know it had been recently banned. Some players, like Andy Murray, Angelique Kerber and Caroline Wozniacki, have recently questioned whether Sharapova should be receiving wild cards upon her return, while others like Venus Williams and Simona Halep do not have a problem with it. 

"I've been serving my sentence," Sharapova said in an exclusive interview with Le Parisien. "So why persist? Is there any reason to keep punishing me? I don't see it.

"When the case [details] were still a bit unknown, everyone had the right to judge. But now that I have been through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is neutral, I say stop. If the players keep criticizing me, then that is not correct."

Sharapova was originally given a two-year suspension for the infraction by an independent ITF tribunal, saying she had used meldonium regularly and it was her responsibility to know the rules. But a tribunal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced her ban to 15 months, saying she had not intended to break the rules. The ruling also referred to a lack of specific warnings about the new ban from the ITF, which runs the tennis anti-doping program. 

Sharapova, who has acknowledged that she did not read an ITF email about general changes to the anti-doping program, also argued that the organization could have informed her personally.

"Why didn’t someone come up to me and have a private conversation, just an official to an athlete, which would have taken care of the confidentiality problem they talked about later?,” Sharapova said during an interview with The Times that will be fully published this week. 

But she added that she considered herself responsible. "Ultimately the fault was mine," Sharapova said, pointing to the lack of problems before 2016. "I became complacent."

Sharapova, now unranked, has received a wildcard into Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome as she returns to tour.

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