The International Tennis Federation (ITF) blasted Maria Sharapova on Wednesday after she said that the sport’s governing body was attempting to make an example of her during her bitter doping ban.
The 29-year-old Russian superstar, who had a two-year suspension slashed to 15 months on Tuesday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), also said the ITF exhibited a lack of neutrality in the dispute.
In an interview with the US broadcaster PBS, the world’s highest-earning sportswoman was asked that as a former world number one and five-time major winner, if the ITF was trying to make an example of her.
“I never wanted to believe that, but I am starting to think that,” said the Russian.
“I got a 24-month suspension, but they (the ITF) wanted four years for me.”
But the London-based ITF hit back on Wednesday, defending its procedures and the tribunal which originally handed down a two-year ban after Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.
“The ITF did not ‘try to ban Ms Sharapova for four years’. The ITF took the position that it is the independent tribunal’s responsibility to determine what the appropriate sanction should be,” said a statement from the governing body released to the British Press Association.
“This included the decision as to whether Ms Sharapova met the requirements set out in the tennis anti-doping programme -- which are the same as those in the WADA code -- for a reduction from the default four-year suspension for the use of a non-specified substance such as meldonium.”
Sharapova also claimed the ITF were not neutral in their deliberations.
“I went through the ITF hearing, which was in front of an arbitration (panel) which was chosen by the ITF,” she said.
“I am at a hearing (in London) knowing the people I am speaking to were chosen by the people that I am actually in a fight with.
“They call that neutral? That is not neutral. CAS is neutral and this is what CAS has awarded to me.”
The ITF hit back in their statement, insisting that Sharapova and her legal team had the right to object to any member of the independent tribunal.
“The members of the independent tribunal, which consisted of a barrister as chairman and medical and scientific experts as co-members, are appointed by the ITF,” their statement added.
“However, Ms Sharapova’s legal team was given the opportunity to object to any member of that tribunal, and they agreed in writing that they had no such objection.”
Sharapova had admitted using meldonium for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.
She said she was unaware though that the substance had been added to the banned list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on January 1, shortly before her positive test.
The CAS decision means Sharapova will be able to return to action on the WTA Tour next April.
She will, however, be back on court as soon as next Monday when she takes part in a fundraiser event in Las Vegas.