David Leggat: The lady doth protest too much, methinks

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Maria Sharapova speakings about her failed drug test at the Australia Open. Photo / AP
Maria Sharapova speakings about her failed drug test at the Australia Open. Photo / AP

Spare a thought for Maria Sharapova ... just kidding.

The downfall of tennis' most marketable woman player should be cheered; the attitude of major sponsors Nike, Head and Evian castigated as self-serving.

The chief executive of racquet makers Head, Johan Eliasch, called the 29-year-old's suspension for failing a doping test for the banned substance meldonium "a flawed decision" by the International Tennis Federation.

Evian says it will stick with Sharapova because her infringement was "not intentional". Now there's a defence she might want to avoid offering up at her appeal.

Sharapova says she intends appealing her two-year ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, her lawyer confident they have enough "wriggle room" to argue for acquittal or at the least a reduction in her ban.

At times like this, it's wise to consider some bottom lines: is Sharapova responsible, as with any other athlete, from the highly visible to the journeymen and women, for what is found in her system? Yes.

Is meldonium a banned substance? Not for the first few years she was using it but yes, in the final weeks before she tested positive.

She claims she hadn't realised meldonium, which she'd been taking for 10 years, was suddenly banned. Why did she not take heed of repeated advisory emails? Perhaps because she thought she was above all this inconvenience and figured she was too big, too important to the game to be brought to book.

It's easy to imagine Sharapova's downfall was greeted with high fives all around by her locker room rivals. It is no secret she is immensely unpopular with her peers. Something to do with her haughty, aloof manner and attitude towards LPGA Tour opponents. And so you could say what goes around comes around.

There has been precious little support for the five-time Grand Slam winner. One of the most damning criticisms came from the great Roger Federer, who gave her short shrift. "To me it's about zero tolerance," said the Fed. "It doesn't matter if they did it on purpose or not - I don't really see the difference.

"You need to know what goes into your body, you have to be 100 per cent sure of what's going on, if you're not, you're going to be damned." As summations go, that's hard to top.

If Sharapova is basing her defence on ignorance that meldonium has joined the banned list from January 1, or as her lawyer put it an "unintentional" breaking of the rules, she might want to reconsider her strategy.

Then again, this is tennis, which has long been viewed as a sport with a lenient view of its leading performers. Three years ago Viktor Troicki's ban for refusing to submit a blood sample was trimmed from 18 months to a year; Marin Cilic's nine-month suspension for unknowingly ingesting a banned stimulant to four months.

Another reason to savour her outing from the game is she'll take her shriek with her. This is the right decision, all round.

- NZ Herald

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