Paul Lewis on sport
Paul Lewis is the Herald on Sunday's Sport Editor

Paul Lewis: Why Maria should stop bleating and just take the ban

Maria Sharapova. Photo / AP
Maria Sharapova. Photo / AP

Memo Maria Sharapova: Give it up. Don't go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get your drugs ban reduced. The world will just dislike you more.

Disclosure ... I'm in the minority: I like Sharapova. She suffers from a few ills - intolerable grunting, an occasionally superior manner, which didn't serve her well at her press conference to schmooze her way through a failed drugs test, and the perception she has beautiful woman syndrome (a sense of entitlement, the princess gene).

Let's deal with the drugs in a minute because La Maria has found it hard to get past this one with eyelid-batting and a fetching smile.

But she has guts. I have been of this opinion since 2007, watching her in the French Open quarter-finals against dogged Swiss opponent Patty Schnyder. Schnyder, who rose as high as world No7, had a fine range of shots, particularly her drop shot, but the diminutive Swiss also had the ability to play the patient game, returning everything and waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.

If she was a dog, Schnyder would still be dropping the ball at your feet after 11 hours of tireless chasing and fetch.

She also had a reputation for being a little flaky - her parents, concerned at the influence of her self-styled guru (and coach), hired a private detective. He managed to get rid of the guru but the 'tec then inserted himself as svengali. They married, she had a daughter, retired from tennis in 2011 before divorcing the detective (there's a song title there, I reckon) and making a comeback last year (she is now 450-something in the world).

Anyway, Sharapova was already offside with the Roland Garros crowd after a bit of gamesmanship before earning its outright wrath by serving when Schnyder had backed away. The serve was called good. The French crowd went, as they say in France, fou.
Fighting off tears, Sharapova pulled herself together. She grinned and waved at the crowd, and blew occasional kisses, acting as if she thought they loved her even as they booed and hissed.

She won after saving two matchpoints.

Gutsy. You try standing in the middle of a foreign, unfriendly environment with the whole world screeching at you and smile, let alone win. Since then, I have watched her get her clock cleaned by Serena Williams on a regular basis and have noted her unfailing dignity in defeat, even when Serena has demonstrably underlined that, while Sharapova might be the richest sportswoman, she is not the most talented.
But, man, that drugs ban.

The International Tennis Federation banned her for two years, finally outlining to the world that the Sharapova of the candour and wide-eyed innocence of that press conference was maybe not the Sharapova who went off to the pharmacy for repeat prescriptions.

The ITF judgement found: "The contravention of the anti-doping rules was not intentional as Ms Sharapova did not appreciate that Mildronate, which contains meldonium, contained a substance prohibited from January 1, 2016. However, she does bear sole responsibility for the contravention, and very significant fault, in failing to take any steps to check whether the continued use of this medicine was permissible. If she had not concealed her use of Mildronate from the anti-doping authorities, members of her own support team and the doctors whom she consulted, but had sought advice, then the contravention would have been avoided."

That's the thing. She claimed she had taken Mildronate for medical reasons but hid that fact from almost everyone. If she'd been transparent about it, someone would surely have told her when the drug went on the banned list this year.

In her extraordinary March press conference, Sharapova revealed she started taking about 18 drugs a year after winning Wimbledon as a 17-year-old. Mildronate was among them, prescribed because of her family history, guarding against cardiovascular disease and diabetes. By 2010, that cocktail had swelled to 30 pills (all legal).

While she declared (as tennis players must) what she was taking, Mildronate remained missing from the list filled in for the drug testers. She said she thought she had to declare only medications taken every day. But the ITF showed she took Mildronate six times in seven days at Wimbledon last year and five times in seven days at the Australian Open.

Sharapova and her connections are confident they'll get an acquittal or reduced ban on appeal. But she should take her medicine (pardon the pun). She has just turned 29. There's time to make a comeback and she has the guts to do so.

She should stop bleating the ban will cost her millions - she has made over US$200m in endorsements alone. What's at risk is reputation; what John McEnroe meant when he said she was one of the greatest competitors the game has seen.

There's still time for that to be right, unconnected to meldonium.

- Herald on Sunday

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