Maria Sharapova has been the hot topic of conversation lately in the tennis world. And this conversation has heated up with the recent announcement of the Russian receiving a wild card into the 2017 US Open.
Sharapova famously tested positively to using meldonium, a forbidden performance enhancing drug, at the Australian Open in 2016.The 30-year-old was struck with an initial two-year ban from tennis before being reduced to 15 months following an appeal by the five-time Grand Slam Champion. Meldonium was only effectively placed on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned substances list on the 1st of January 2016, just 25 days prior to Sharapova being tested. The drug was banned after finding that it may increase exercise capacity and tolerance, thus giving the user an unfair advantage. Sharapova protested that she had known the drug by another name, Mildronate, the trade name for the drug and therefore did not know she was using a banned substance. The 6”2’ superstar admitted that she had been using meldonium for much of her career to combat health conditions, not to gain any physical advantage, however still came under harsh scrutiny from the other players and coaches on tour, along with the ever-present media.
The former World 1 was forced to serve her punishment, watching her rivals, namely Serena Williams and Angelique Kerber, achieve remarkable successes in her absence. The 35-time champion on the WTA circuit was not going to let this ban end her Hall of Fame career. More determined than ever, Sharapova made her comeback in April of this year after gaining a wild card entry into the Stuttgart Open. The Russian made the most of this opportunity, reaching the semifinal before falling to French sensation Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 6-2. The right-hander has since had a relatively disappointing 2017, only managing three wins following her run at Stuttgart and recently having to withdraw from the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati due to a left forearm injury. However, the mega star, on and off the court, has shown enough promise for the USTA to hand her a wild card into the US Open, even after both the French Open and Wimbledon turned a cold shoulder to Sharapova when she needed assistance. A former US Open Champion, Maria Sharapova will be a name that the opposition do not want to see anywhere near their section of the draw when it gets released.
In this writer’s opinion, Sharapova does not deserve anywhere near the criticism that she receives. The Russian was using meldonium for 10 years prior to it being banned and during this time WADA found no reason to place it on its banned substance list. Through previous drug tests, the WTA and WADA would’ve known that Sharapova was taking this drug, yet chose to do nothing about it for 10 years; this to me shows that the effects of the drug would be minimal at best. The 30-year-old also protests that her doctor suggested taking this drug to help combat a magnesium deficiency, heart problems, and prevent diabetes, which has a strong history in her family–clearly she was not using the drug to gain an advantage over the competition.
Why would Sharapova continually use this drug if she knew it was banned and getting caught could potentially end her career? This is the big question and the only answer is that she did not know that it was a banned substance. Sharapova was found guilty, she served her time away from the game, and now she is mounting a comeback and I believe this former champion still deserves the upmost of respect. Sharapova will always be remembered as an all-time great of the sport, contributing so much to the growth of women’s tennis. Awarding this icon with wild cards is the least that can be done to acknowledge her greatness. So, I for one, am incredibly happy that Sharapova has received a wild card into this year’s 2017 US Open and want to wish her the best of luck in her title campaign.