Tim Henman, the British No 1, gave robust backing yesterday to Greg Rusedski, making plain that he did not believe the Canadian-born Briton had taken steroids intentionally.
The two men have never been close and have had troubled relations at times, but Henman said he had been "very surprised" to learn that Rusedski had tested positive for the drug nandrolone. "I've had a chance to think about Greg's situation," he said. "My gut reaction is that something has gone wrong here."
Rusedski, the British No 2, last week confirmed rumours that an illegal level of nandrolone was detected in his system after a drugs test in Indianapolis last July. He denied any wrongdoing and cast doubt on the testing procedures of the ATP, the world governing body of men's tennis. This week he braved the limelight, playing in a Sydney warm-up tournament for next week's Australian Open.
Henman said: "I think he's handled an incredibly difficult situation amazingly well. He's been out competing and playing really well, and I take my hat off to him for that."
Rusedski, who faces an anti-doping tribunal in Montreal on 9 February, says he is one of 47 players to have tested positive for nandrolone since August 2002, with all the samples showing an unexplained "common analytical fingerprint". He concludes that the samples were contaminated or that the testing procedures were flawed.
"There have obviously been some positive test results, and there was a large number of players with raised levels [of nandrolone]," Henman said. "You just question how that has happened. There have been a lot of people making judgements, and I certainly wouldn't want to make judgements because I think it's best to see what everybody has to say on 9 February. I'm intrigued to find out what actually happens."
Asked whether he thought Rusedski had adopted the right approach by fighting his case in public, Henman said: "The whole thing is a strange series of events. I don't think there has been a case where the whole story has come out before the appeal process has taken place and that's where, I'm sure, it's been very difficult for him."
Henman said Rusedski's plight underlined the necessity for athletes to be "very cautious and wary of everything you're eating and drinking". "I drink a carbohydrate energy drink on the court and I've had that tested on a number of occasions," he said, adding that his fitness coach, Johan de Beer, had checked out the company that produces it.
"Companies are perfectly entitled to make these steroids, but if you're using a company that produces those, then there obviously is a risk of contamination," Henman said. "Certainly a lot of thought has gone into making sure that the company I use doesn't produce anything like that. But whatever you eat or drink in a restaurant or anywhere, do you categorically know what's going to be in it?"
Like Henman, Rusedski's former coach is convinced of the player's innocence. Brad Langevard said Rusedski was a "perfectionist" who would never take a banned substance deliberately. Langevard, who coached Rusedski for 11 months in 2001, said he had never worked with anyone who was so careful about what they put in their body.
"He is so fastidious, so precise," he said. "He's not the slightest bit careless or sloppy. I never saw him mixing up any protein powders or anything like that, and I was with him around the clock. He never even used to take painkillers.
"I spent a lot of time with him in hotel rooms, and he used to amaze me. He would have all his clothes folded up, he'd have all his vitamins stacked up, always exactly in the same place in the same part of the table. He was almost a freak in that respect.
"He would go through the food on menus in restaurants and at tournaments and carefully select what he was supposed to be eating," Langevard added. "He had his nutrition down to a tee - he wouldn't even have a glass of wine. I can't imagine Greg trawling through the internet trying to find some nandrolone. What's the point? The guy's probably the best athlete on the circuit."Reuse content