Maria Sharapova: Nike suspends $70m contract with tennis star after testing positive for meldonium in drug test

Sharapova revealed on Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open, with the ITF provisionally suspending her

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Nike has suspended its $70m contract with Maria Sharapova after she revealed that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January having tested positive for meldonium.

28-year-old Sharapova held a press conference on Monday night to reveal the shocking news that looks set to land her a lengthy ban, with the International Tennis Federation [ITF] confirming she has been provisionally banned with effect from the 12 March.

Sharapova admitted that she had taken meldonium legally throughout her career since a family-approved doctor recommended its use to help with her health issues in 2006. However, the World Anti-Doping Agency [Wada] placed meldonium on the banned substances list on 1 January 2016 due to "evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance", and Sharapova claims that neither she nor any of her management checked the updated list ahead of the Australian Open.

Sharapova says she takes “full responsibility” for the positive drug test, which she accepts, but Nike have confirmed that they will suspend their deal with the Russian with immediate effect pending the outcome of the investigation into her positive test.

A Nike statement read: "We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova.

"We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues.

"We will continue to monitor the situation."

Sharapova made it clear that she does not want to end her tennis career with a drug ban and signalled her intention to resume her career following any suspension, should she be allowed to return to competition.

But with Sharapova set to turn 29 before this year’s French Open, a likely one-year ban would result in her returning to action at Roland Garros next year at the age of 30, and former British number one Annabel Croft believes a longer ban could end her career.

Speaking to BBC Radio Five Live, Croft said: "The game moves on constantly and it's very, very difficult to keep up at the best of times.

"It's not to say never as she's one of the best competitors out there. She's utterly ruthless as a competitor and she's got a strong will and a strong mind.

Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova fails drugs test

"It's not to say she couldn't come back at some level but I think it would be very difficult if it was a two-year ban or more than that to get back to the heights she's at."