Ever since he appeared on the front of a magazine at the age of nine Richard Gasquet has been hailed as the future of French tennis, but the 22-year-old's career could be in ruins after he admitted yesterday to failing a drugs test for cocaine. Testing positive during competition brings an automatic two-year ban, though he is likely to appeal.
Gasquet confirmed in a statement that both "A" and "B" tests on a urine sample given at the Miami tournament in March had revealed traces of the drug. However, he said that a hair sample tested by an independent laboratory "showed no trace of cocaine" and added: "Given the complexity of the case, I am gathering the evidence of my innocence and will later set a date to make further comments."
The French Tennis Federation said it found news of the positive test "very surprising considering Richard Gasquet's personality".
The world No 23, who cited a shoulder injury when he pulled out of this week's Madrid Masters, was tested after withdrawing for similar reasons before his first match in Miami. It is thought that one avenue he could pursue would be to argue that, as he had not played, it was an out-of-competition test, which would not bring a ban (as the effects of cocaine are considered to be only temporary).
Gasquet would not be the first to test positive for cocaine, which is considered a stimulant. Martina Hingis retired following her test at Wimbledon two summers ago, Mats Wilander and Karel Novacek were banned for three months after failing tests at the 1995 French Open, and Spain's Lourdes Dominguez Lino was suspended for the same period in 2002.
Gasquet has not won a tournament for 20 months and is now only the French No 4. For all his brilliance – his style has often been compared with Roger Federer's – he has looked uncomfortable in the public eye and has never gone beyond the third round of the French Open. He has also seemed short on mental strength. Last year, for example, he played superbly to win the first two sets against Andy Murray in the fourth round at Wimbledon only to wilt as the Scot successfully fought back.
Murray, who will move up a place to No 3 in today's updated rankings list, has hardly looked back since that match. The 21-year-old Scot will be hoping to complete his preparations for the French Open, which begin in a fortnight's time, with a good week here.
He has a first-round bye and could meet Simone Bolelli in the second round, followed by Tommy Robredo, Juan Martin del Potro and Federer in the semi-finals. Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic head the other half of the draw. The women are also competing here, with the injured Ana Ivanovic the only absentee among the leading players.
There are three courts with retractable roofs in the event of rain, though Mother Nature found other ways to halt play yesterday. Sorana Cirstea and Alona Bondarenko were in the middle of their match when a queen bee took up residence on the net and was joined by hundreds of her followers. The court was evacuated.
Among those affected was Anne Keothavong, the British No 1, who was due on court next to play Mariana Duque Marino. "It's certainly the strangest reason I've ever had for having a match delayed," Keothavong said. "I'm just glad I'm not allergic to bees. It's a shame I haven't got a bee-keeper's outfit to wear."