Maria Sharapova has won her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, lopping nine months off the two-year suspension she received from the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for meldonium in January.
The ban was announced June 8 but backdated to Jan. 26, when the failed test was discovered during this year's Australian Open. The reduced sentence allows the 29-year-old to return to the tour on April 26, 2017, opening the door for a possible wild-card entry into the French Open.
Sharapova immediately appealed the ITF ruling, on the grounds that meldonium - which had been added to the banned substance list just a month earlier - had long gone under a different name (Mildronate), that she hadn't been properly notified about the drug's change in name or status, and that her continued use of it was the result of a clerical error, not a deliberate effort to game the system.
The ITF tribunal actually ruled that Sharapova didn't knowingly break the rules, which is what allowed for the successful appeal. Its reasoning behind the two-year suspension, then, came down to negligence. It held Sharapova at fault for not disclosing her use of the drug on any of the seven doping control forms submitted between Oct. 22, 2014 and Jan. 26, 2016. Sharapova's affiliation with the doctor who prescribed her Mildronate in the first place ceased in 2013, but she continued to ingest the drug without consulting another doctor about it, and without informing anyone but her father and her agent.
The CAS panel found that Sharapova "had a reduced perception of the risk that she took while using Mildronate, because (a) she had used Mildronate for around ten years without any anti-doping issue, (b) she had consulted the Russian doctor who prescribed the Mildronate for medical reasons, not to enhance her performance, and (c) she had received no specific warning about the change in status of meldonium from WADA, the ITF, or the WTA. In addition, the CAS panel considered that it was reasonable for Ms. Sharapova to entrust the checking of the Prohibited List each year to her agent."
The panel nonetheless upheld 15 months worth of the suspension because it found Sharapova at fault for "(a) failing to give her agent adequate instructions as to how to carry out the important task of checking the Prohibited List, and (b) failing to supervise and control the actions of her agent in carrying out that task (specifically the lack of any procedure for reporting or follow-up verification to make sure that her agent had actually discharged his duty). The CAS panel also noted Ms. Sharapova's failure to disclose her use of meldonium on her doping control forms."
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champ and former world No. 1, was ranked seventh in the world at the time of the suspension. She's currently ranked 95th.