Eight-year drugs ban ends career of French Open finalist Puerta

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The Independent Online

Mariano Puerta, of Argentina, gave one of the most memorable displays of his career in the French Open men's singles final last June. But today his career is as good as over.

Although the International Tennis Federation stopped short of banning Puerta for life for taking a stimulant, the eight-year suspension imposed by the governing body yesterday leaves the 27-year-old from Buenos Aires beyond any reasonable expectation of an ATP Tour comeback only three months before his 35th birthday.

"I find it extraordinary that it could ever be thought satisfactory that a person's livelihood can be terminated in circumstances such as these," Puerta said. "I will be considering an appeal, but no decision will be taken until the New Year.

"My position has always been that I did not deliberately, or knowingly ingest any prohibited substance."

Puerta's positive test for the banned stimulant etilefrine after losing to the 19-year-old Spaniard Rafael Nadal, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 7-5, in the French final was his second drugs offence. Two years ago, Puerta was banned for nine months by the ATP Tour for taking the banned anabolic steroid clenbuterol.

The ITF did not ban Puerta for life yesterday because his latest positive result was "caused by an inadvertent administration of etilefrine".

Puerta claimed the drug entered his body just before the final, after he inadvertently used a glass that had previously been used by his wife, who takes a treatment containing etilefrine.

"The independent tribunal rejected a defence of no fault or negligence, but accepted an alternative plea of no significant fault or negligence," the ITF said.

Ranked No 12 in the world, Puerta's ban will be backdated to June 2005 and he will forfeit ranking points and £300,000 in prize-money. He will also give up prize-money won after the French Open. He has three weeks to appeal against the ban.

The World Anti-Doping Agency welcomed the ban on Puerta as "a big step forward" in the attempt to clean up tennis. Dick Pound, the chairman of Wada, said: "Somebody who has tested positive twice in less than two years is someone who clearly doesn't think the rules apply to him.

"We were always worried about the secrecy and apparent laxity of the testing when the responsibility was in the hands of the players' association [The ATP Tour]. I know that the International Tennis Federation have been working for a number of years in the interests of the sport and the process is now more transparent.

"The testing regimes will get better over time and the deterrent effect of these kind of sanctions will I hope persuade players who might otherwise consider using these drugs not to do so.

"It is a big step forward. We will keep working with the ITF to help them make their sport even cleaner."

The French Open was the culmination of an impressive revival by Puerta following his nine-month ban after testing positive for clenbuterol during a tournament in Vina del Mar, Chile, in February 2003.

His ranking fell to 440 before his return this year. He won at Casablanca before mounting his French Open campaign. Puerta denied taking any banned substances after the French newspaper L'Equipe reported in October that he had provided a positive test in Paris.

Puerta's compatriot, Guillermo Canas, was banned for two years in August after failing a drug test. Two other players from Argentina, Guillermo Coria (seven months) and Juan Ignacio Chela (three months) have also been banned for drugs.