How the biggest anti-doping operation in tennis history caught Maria Sharapova

By Mike Dickson

Maria Sharapova. Photo / Getty
Maria Sharapova. Photo / Getty

Maria Sharapova was caught at the Australian Open following the biggest anti-doping operation ever mounted in tennis.

Every player, male or female, who played any form of singles in Melbourne was given a blood test as part of the unprecedented sweep, primarily designed to expand the sport's biological passport programme.

With the two qualifying draws taken into account, it means that well over 450 blood tests were carried out and additional random examinations during the event occurred as well.

Among these were dozens of urine tests, the collection of which is much cheaper and simpler than blood. It emerges that it was one of these which entrapped Sharapova.

The work was carried out by Stockholm-based testing company IDTM. The International Tennis Federation did not wish to comment on the figure but a spokesman confirmed to Sportsmail that the information relating to the mass testing in Australia is correct.

The likes of Roger Federer and Andy Murray, who in the past fortnight have reiterated their calls for more testing to be done, are likely to be somewhat reassured by the widening of the biological passport scheme, first introduced by tennis in 2013.

Meldonium was said by last month by Dick Pound, former President of Wada, to be a fairly common currency in tennis as well as other sports. As of Friday the number of positive tests for the substance in 2016 across the sporting world was up to 140, according to Wada.

It could be that other tennis players apart from Sharapova will be found to have taken a drug which is widespread in Eastern Europe.

The Russian took the unusual step early last month of making a formal public admission after being notified. However, the protocol followed by tennis allows for anonymity until a ruling by an independent tribunal has been made, so it is possible that more like her are out there.

Last year the tennis anti-doping programme carried out 2431 urine examinations on players, and that number does not include tests undertaken by other organisations involved in the fight against illegal performance enhancers.

While the Indian Wells and current Miami Open tournaments have been carrying on Sharapova has been posting images on her social media pages of what she has been up to.

Last weekend she posed, smiling, in front of a private jet whisking her and friends off to Mexico for a beach holiday. In the past week there have also been pictures of her practising on a tennis court and working out in the gym.

The message she seems to want to convey is that she is in good spirits and has definitely not given up on coming back to the sport.

Her agent, Max Eisenbud, did not want to comment in Miami this week on the exact schedule for the hearings that will determine her immediate future.

However, sources familiar with the process in such cases expect the independent tribunal will hear her case around the end of this month, with a decision likely to be announced some time around mid to late May.

That could coincide with the lead-in to, or start of the busy period that covers the French Open and Wimbledon - not ideal timing for the sport.

- Daily Mail

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