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International Tennis Federation suspends Maria Sharapova for two years

Russian former world number one Maria Sharapova was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday following her positive test for banned drug meldonium at this year’s Australian Open. In a statement the ITF said the 29-year-old five-times grand slam champion’s ban would be back-dated to Jan. 26 this year. Earlier, Sharapova has been provisionally named in her country’s squad for the forthcoming Rio Olympics.

Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency had barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, as of Jan. 1. Her lawyer, John Haggerty, said Sharapova took the substance after that date. Wednesday’s ruling said Sharapova did not intend to cheat, but bore “sole responsibility” and “very significant fault” for the positive test. In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2, the ITF said.

The two-year ban can be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006. She could have been barred from competing for up to four years. The ITF ruling in Sharapova’s case follows a hearing before a three-person panel. Lawyers representing the ITF argued their side, while Haggerty argued hers. He said she spoke at the hearing.

The ban throws into doubt the on-court future of Sharapova, a 29-year-old Russian who is one of the most well-known — and, thanks to a wide array of endorsements — highest-earning athletes in the world. She is a former top-ranked player who is one of 10 women in tennis history with a career Grand Slam — at least one title from each of the sport’s four most important tournaments. So much came so easily for her at the start: Wimbledon champion in 2004 at age 17; No. 1 in the rankings at 18; U.S. Open champion at 19; Australian Open champion at 20.

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