Tennis: Player vows to clear name of drug taint

By Paul Newman

PARIS - French tennis player Richard Gasquet, speaking in public for the first time since his suspension after testing positive for cocaine, said the drug had been used by other people with whom he had spent the evening before his failed test.

Gasquet took the test in March after pulling out of the Masters tournament in Miami, because of a shoulder injury. The 22-year-old Frenchman said he and three friends joined a table of about 15 people hosted by Bob Sinclar, a French disc jockey, at Le Set, a Miami nightclub.

In an interview published yesterday by L'Equipe, the French sports daily newspaper, Gasquet said: "One of the people present that evening has [since] told me that cocaine had circulated at our table. Since it was a minute quantity that was found in my urine - a mere trace which, I have since found out, represents less than a tenth of a line of cocaine - everything is possible. I know what did not happen. I repeat: I have never taken cocaine. But I don't know what did happen and I want to find out."

Gasquet, who is taking his own legal action to try to prove his innocence, said he would have left the nightclub immediately if he had seen cocaine being used. The world No 21 said he had arrived at about midnight and drunk two glasses of alcohol.

"As ever, I kept a close watch on my glass. I always kept it in my hand. It would have been a mistake to have let go of it and I didn't.

"Nobody takes cocaine on the tour. We're so scared of everything. When I take an aspirin, I call the doctor 10 times to make sure that I can take it."

Le Parisien, another French newspaper, published extracts of what it said was a statement Gasquet had given to French police. He was reported to have said that an "outside contamination" - interpreted as a spiking of his drink - could have happened at the nightclub.

While most other players have been reluctant to comment, Rafael Nadal said he was convinced of the Frenchman's innocence. "You know what the world is like today," Nadal said. "When you go to a party, anything can happen these days. If you kiss a girl who's taken cocaine, anything can happen, and that's the truth. That's reality, and this can destroy your life or your career and it is most unfair."

Gasquet, who would not comment on Nadal's suggestion but said a separate test of his hair samples had shown no trace of cocaine. He also said he had voluntarily taken a DNA test to make sure it was his urine sample that had been tested.

Even if he is banned - Gasquet is awaiting a hearing that could lead to a two-year suspension - the Frenchman insisted that he would return. "I am innocent and I can't wait to start playing again. My career is far from finished."

Nadal's summer difficulties have continued after he withdrew from next week's grass-court tournament at Queen's Club, the Aegon Championships, because of his perpetually sore knees, although it seems unlikely he will miss Wimbledon.

Last summer, Nadal became the first man to do the Cross-Channel Triple, winning the French Open in Paris, and then moving to London to take the Queen's Club tournament, and then the Wimbledon title, but now the only one of those three trophies that he can possibly hold on to this season is the golden Challenge Cup at the All England Club.

Nadal thus may not have any competitive grass-court matches before Wimbledon begins in just over a fortnight. It was at Queen's Club last year that Nadal looked serious about this grass-court business, working himself into form round by round and going on to beat Novak Djokovic in the final. The Queen's Club tournament set him up nicely for Wimbledon, where he beat Roger Federer in that extraordinary final. in the near-darkness on centre court.

Nadal personally called the tournament director, Chris Kermode, to give him the bad news.

"I have been having some problems in the past months with my knees, that's no secret, that did not allow me to compete at 100 per cent always. I need to work with my team to recover well, work on my physical condition to be at my top form and get ready for the grass to play at Wimbledon. I hope I can be ready to compete by then."

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