Oh, Maria Game, set, inject.

The longer you steal glances off the picture above, the harder it should hit you about the sweet innocence of professional sport, and the untainted glory that comes gift-wrapped with every victory.

The picture was taken right after Maria Sharapova’s win at the 2012 French Open, four and a half years since her last Grand Slam trophy at the 2008 Australian Open. That win in Melbourne came just before her 21st birthday, her third Grand Slam trophy before she could legally buy a glass of red in her Florida residence.

And since that picture was taken, the Russian beau has gotten herself another French Open in 2014, won seven other Singles titles, launched her own line of candy, and failed a drugs test.


Meldonium, the banned substance that Maria Sharapova was found to have taken, was added to the list of banned substances on 16th September 2015, and that list came into effect on the turn of 2016.

What meldonium does is simple, and lethally effective; it increases blood flow, virtually carrying more oxygen to muscle tissue, and ultimately improving exercise capacity in athletes.

There really isn’t much else to say about meldonium, except that it was being monitored extensively before (rightly) being added into that list of banned substances.

Maria had been taking meldonium since 2006 at an honest age of 19 while it was all still permitted, and was then found positive to be still taking it after 2016, resulting in a 24-month ban from competitive tennis. The ban was shortened to a very forgiving 15 months in the past week, causing a divide in opinions; in both fellow professionals, and fans.

“…Maria Sharapova was always on one that allowed her to push through her natural body’s threshold to, as it turned out, gain a competitive edge of other title hopefuls. That genuinely and categorically defines “cheat”.”

#IStandWithMaria and #LetMariaPlay were the frivolous results of fans and social media, with sympathy being the order of the days after Maria Sharapova found a human-sized asterisk next to her name with the ban.

The appeal that took nine months away from her original sentence came from the argument that she wasn’t aware that the drug had been since been banned, after also claiming that she’d been taking meldonium because of a magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes.

Maria looks set to return to the circuit in April 2017 and will have her work cut out in reaching the high-end of the WTA rankings again (she’s currently 93rd and dropping), but maybe that would be the least of her worries with the players around the circuit, and fans, like myself, whom may now be associating her with “the c word”.

“…you’d bet on her sweating it out on the practice courts for her return in six months, while the elite in the WTA battle it out at the 2016 WTA Finals here in sunny Singapore next week.”

Let’s lay it all out:

Magnesium deficiency or not, diabetic or not, drug banned or not, Maria Sharapova was always on one that allowed her to push through her natural body’s threshold to, as it turned out, gain a competitive edge of other title hopefuls. That genuinely and categorically defines “cheat”.

It shouldn’t be as easy to show the empathy for Maria to get over this ordeal she’s found herself in (I’m sure the hashtags help…), especially when her first public comment since the ban was one that thanked her fifteen and a half million followers on Facebook. She pretty much bled appreciation for the fans’ “support and loyalty”, something she said she “could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession”.

Does it really count when you’re now found to have gotten there illegally, Maria?

It may be hyperbolic of me to slam any bit of support that Maria is indeed getting from all of this (seriously, it’s what fans do), but you can’t help but to question the precedence this sets for athletes moving forward. Would athletes be forgiven and shown empathy for apologizing with their arms up, claiming they had no idea if the drug they took to enhance their performance was actually banned? Come on, now.

The last time Maria Sharapova ended the season with a year-end ranking falling below the Top 10 was in 2010, when injuries and surgeries hampered her career. At a low of 93 and her ban, you’d bet on her sweating it out on the practice courts for her return in six months, while the elite in the WTA battle it out at the 2016 WTA Finals here in sunny Singapore next week.

Murmurs will be rampant, and cheers will be hesitant when Maria Sharapova eventually does take the court again now that we’ve found something grimmer than her devilish on-court shrieks. Till then.

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