Tennis star Maria Sharapova says failed drug test at Australian Open; faces penalty

Maria Sharapova

Five-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova has announced she failed a doping test at the Australian Open, saying a change in the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list for 2016 led to the violation.

Sharapova said yesterday she tested positive for Meldonium, a substance she had been taking since 2006 but one that was added to the banned list this year. She said she did not look at the updated ban list before taking the drug.

"I did fail the test, and I take full responsibility for it," a sombre Sharapova said at a press conference at a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," added Sharapova, her voice wavering.

"I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The International Tennis Federation confirmed in a statement that the former world number one from Russia had tested positive on January 26 and had accepted the finding when she was notified on March 2.

"Ms. Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case," the ITF said.

Sharapova said she was cooperating with the ITF and did not yet know the extent of the sanctions she would face.

Shamil Tarpishchev, head of the Russian tennis federation, promptly said he believed Sharapova would have a chance to play at the Rio Olympics in August.

"I believe it's rubbish, nothing else," TASS news agency quoted Tarpishchev as saying. "The athletes take the medicines, which their physiotherapists or doctors recommend them to take. I believe Sharapova will nevertheless play at the Olympics."

Sharapova, 28, burst onto the international scene as she giggled and grunted her way to the Wimbledon crown in 2004.

She won the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014. She has 35 WTA singles titles and more than $36 million in career earnings, and is currently ranked seventh in the world.

Sharapova said she originally began taking Meldonium for a variety of worrying symptoms, including a tendency to become ill often, an irregular EKG heart test and a family history of diabetes.

Meldonium is used to treat heart trouble, including angina and heart failure.

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