Nike has decided on Monday to suspend Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in sports, after she failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she has been taking for 10 years for health issues.
The 28-year-old Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.
Nike said it was suspending ties while the case is being investigated.
She is the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and was only banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as of Jan. 1.
Maria Sharapova speaks to the media announcing a failed drug test after the Australian Open during a press conference. (Reuters)
“I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down,” said Sharapova, a teenage tennis prodigy who became the third-youngest Wimbledon champion. “I take full responsibility for it.”
“I know that with this I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way. I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game,” former world number one Sharapova told a news conference in a downtown Los Angeles hotel.
In its statement to put ties on hold that came just hours after the tennis star’s announcement, Nike, the world’s largest sportswear maker, said, “We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova.”
The ITF’s anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test, but that ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as for first-time offences or if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.
If a player bears no fault or negligence, there is no suspension.