Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon examines the Maria Sharapova/Eugenie Bouchard saga.
How was it that they said it in The Dark Knight? You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain?
Well can anyone confirm whether Maria Sharapova has watched the great 2008 movie with Heath Ledger? Because right now in 2017, the Russian player certainly appears to be everyone’s favourite villain.
Sharapova, you may have heard, has come back to action and started playing tennis in the WTA again. This, you also may have heard, came after a lengthy 15-month suspension for which she was made an example of and that she suffered after the powers that be found meldonium in a sample of hers.
But now Sharapova is back, and so it seems is the horde of opinion-havers who couldn’t wait to make loud noises on the topic of her return and suspension. We’ve already highlighted opinion-haver Andy Murray, who hedged against himself but still threw the gauntlet in challenging the Wimbledon folks to hopefully force Sharapova to earn her way to the main draw without the help of a wild card.
Today, let’s turn to Eugenie Bouchard’s #hottake on the matter.
— CTV News (@CTVNews) April 27, 2017
Oh what, did you want the full, actual quote and not just the headline-worthy version? Sure, here it goes. “She is a cheater and so, to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way.”
Ah yes, hold on to that thought because we’ll come back to it in a little bit of doing it the right way. For now, let’s see what else Bouchard has to say? “I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: ‘Cheat and we will welcome you back with open arms’,” she said.
Well actually, Bouchard, no the WTA hasn’t welcome Sharapova back with open arms. She was given a pretty ridiculous two-year suspension, which she appealed and got scaled back down to 15 months. And she hasn’t exactly been given the red carpet, just ask the French Open organizers who won’t give her a wild card this month.
This is all fun and dandy but why do we say this suspension was ridiculous? Well for one thing, Sharapova is far from the first player to test positive for something. Who can forget Andre Agassi’s positive test for meth in 1997, or Richard Gasquet’s test for cocaine? Agassi explained the test as having drank a spiked soda, which #LOL, all the while Gasquet explained that he took the drug when he kissed a random woman in a club. Seriously. Agassi, you may recall, got off unscathed while Gasquet was punished a mere 10 weeks.
Sharapova, the International Tennis Federation would have us believe, appears to be a vile cheater but the thing is really she isn’t.
Here are the facts. When the Russian tested positive for meldonium, which she had been taking for 10 years, the substance had been banned all of less than a month. At the time too, WADA had no real idea as to how long the substance could stay inside a person’s body, meaning that Sharapova was suspended despite the fact no one knew when she actually took meldonium.
But whatever, this is all pretty minor stuff really. And you can say that if you’re a popular athlete and brand with more money than you know what to do with and beloved internationally, and with five Grand Slam titles to your name, then you should never cheat. You should do things the right way.
Right. Except, did you know that tennis allows you to take more or less whichever banned drug you want to take as long as you have a medical exemption? As long as there is no alternate, non-prohibited medication to address your condition, then the ban is lifted for you.
Now that’s doing things the right way. Just ask Bethanie Mattek-Sands, or Venus or Serena Williams, who have used banned substances for that reason in the past.
So let’s please stop the unnecessary brouhaha over Sharapova’s return. We should all listen to Andy Roddick a little more.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) April 26, 2017
She’s paid dearly for what’s a muddled and minor transgression, and now deserves to play again.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG