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Maria Sharapova suspended from tennis with effect from 12th March

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maria_sharapova1Former Wimbledon Champion Maria Sharapova announced in a press conference today that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open, and as a result has been provisionally suspended from playing tennis by the sport's governing body the International Tennis Federation pending a formal investigation into the matter.

To her credit, Sharapova made the announcement herself and apologized to her fans for letting them down, also admitting that she didn't know she was taken a drug on the banned substance list, claiming that she had been prescribed the same by her family doctor way back in 2006, and has been taking it on a fairly regular basis since then.

The drug in question is called meldonium, and according to Sharapova's statement was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned substance list in 2016. Sharapova provided an anti-doping sample to the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme on 26th January 2016 at the Australian Open, and accepted the findings from WADA that she had indeed tested positive for the banned drug.

Sharapova made an official announcement at a press conference she held today in Los Angeles, saying, "A few days ago I received a letter from the... that I failed a drug test at the Australian Open... I did fail the test and take full responsibility for it... For the past 10 years I have been given a medicine called mildronate by my doctor, my family doctor, and a few days ago after I received the ITF letter I found out that it also has another name, meldonium, which I did not know... It's very important for you to understand for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA's banned list and I had been legally taking the medicine for the past 10 years. But on January 1st the rules had changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance, which I had not known."

Sharapova explained her need for the medicine to boost her magnesium levels in the body and that she was regularly falling ill. It is widely believed that meldonium is not a performance enhancing drug, but it is known to be an energy enhancer, a drug which boosts endurance and reduces recovery time after physical exertion.

Swiftly following Sharapova's press conference, the ITF made its own investigation details public, declaring that Sharapova was charged on 2nd March with an Anti-Doping Rule Violation, one which she has accepted. The ITF's statement added, "As meldonium is a non-specified substance under the WADA (and, therefore, TADP) list of Prohibited Substances and Prohibited Methods, Ms Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case."

With Russian athletes in particular coming under the scanner for drug abuse in recent months, it is unlikely that Maria's error will be swept under the carpet, though on the face of it, it does appear that she genuinely had no idea that she was guilty of committing a doping offence. Her critics though will no doubt question why she has been taking this drug for 10 years, how much it has affected her performance, and how many other athletes are also using drugs - perhaps not necessarily banned ones, but drugs all the same - to ensure that their bodies can commit to the grueling schedule of professional sports.

With the French Open, Wimbledon and Rio Olympics in quick succession in the coming months, Maria will no doubt be hoping that her suspension is a short one. She did add in her press conference that she was keen to ensure that this wasn't the final chapter of her playing career, and that she would like to leave the sport on her own terms with her legacy intact.