Maria Sharapova was slapped with a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for a doping violation on Wednesday. The damning report released by the ITF stated that her system contained traces of a banned substance known as meldonium.
This substance was added to the banned list by the ITF on 1 January, 2016, and Sharapova tested positive on 2 March, 2016.
Though the two-year ban seemed far too harsh given that the Russian came forward and the report explicitly stated that she had not used the substance 'intentionally'. But after the weak defence that her manager Max Eisenfed brought forward, there was no choice the ITF had, except to hand her the ban.
The world of tennis exploded with their reactions to the news. Former women's tennis player and one of the greatest of all time, Martina Navratilova said it might be the end of the road for the five-time Grand Slam winner.
Maria Sharapova's Tennis Suspension Is for Two Years, - 2 years-yikes- it will be hard to come back from this... https://t.co/QuJO2PStuq
— Martina Navratilova (@Martina) June 8, 2016
Former world No 1 Billie Jean King echoed Navratilova's sentiments. However, she tweeted out in favour of the former world number 1 and said that taking responsibility for the incident was a big part of Sharapova's real character.
Thinking about @MariaSharapova with today's news. She accepted responsibility early on and that is a big part of her true character
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) June 8, 2016
But not all tweets were supportive of the Russian. Chris Evert, 21-time Grand Slam winner, acknowledged the holes in Sharapova's defense and tweeted about the same.
After I read the report, 2 yrs made sense...a lot of holes in her defense... https://t.co/dXBMr9evir
— Chris Evert (@ChrissieEvert) June 8, 2016
The harshest of criticism, however, came from Wimbledon champion Pat Cash. He believed that she knew about the performance enhancing drug and took it willingly according to an interview given to ABC news.
"She's made a mistake, but my gut feeling is if you're a professional athlete and you know you're taking a performance-enhancing drug, which clearly she was — then two years, I think she got off pretty lightly in that respect," said Cash.
Caroline Wozniacki said that it was a sad situation not only for Sharapova but also tennis. But she also said that tennis had a strong anti-doping policy and it was for the best that this incident had happened.
The only silver lining from the episode for Sharapova was that her sponsors were unwilling to drop her as a brand ambassador. Nike released a statement on the whole saga and said that the ITF report stated that her substance abuse was not intentional. Debate remained over the length of the ban, it said. "The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban," it said.
The strongest defence for Sharapova though came from HEAD. Sharapova's sponsors wrote a strongly worded statement dismissing WADA's addition of meldonium as a banned substance. "Evident that WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) banned meldonium based upon the amount of athletes using meldonium rather than any scientific evidence," said HEAD.
As of now, Sharapova has decided to approach the athlete-friendly CAS ( Court of Arbitration for Sport) in order to reduce the length of her ban.