Days after admitting she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, where she fell to rival, Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova — long the world’s richest female athlete — posted a Facebook thank you note to her fans.
“In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession. I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face.”
The 28-year-old tennis star revealed Monday at a news conference that she’d been taking meldonium since 2006 and didn’t realize it was declared a banned substance by the World Anti-Doping Agency at the start of 2016. She knew the drug, she said, by the name mildronate.
Immediately afterward, the International Tennis Federation said on its website that Sharapova would be provisionally banned from March 12 “pending determination of the case.” Sharapova faces a ban of four years, although if officials deem she didn’t intentionally break the rules, any final suspension could be two years or less.
The five-time grand slam champion reveals to her fans that she looks forward to continuing her tennis career.
“I’d like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so,” she said. “Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn’t anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.”
She continued, “I am determined to play tennis again, and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn’t have to go through this, but I do, and I will.”
As the tennis world continues to react to the bombshell development, Rafael Nadal, who has been forced to deny he has ever committed doping infractions, didn’t absolve Sharapova and said tennis is suffering.
“It’s terrible what happened with Maria for the world of sport, for the world of tennis, but you have to respect the rules,” the 14-time grand slam winner told CNN. “The sport must be clean, must look clean and in general Maria affects our image in the world of tennis.
“And now she is in trouble, so she is going to a (tribunal) and we’ll see what is going to happen, but if she makes negligence, she has to pay for it.”
Despite having a huge entourage, which would include an agent, coach, physiotherapist, and doctor; Nadal added it was up to Sharapova to know what exactly she was putting in her body.
“You have a team, you believe in your team, but at the end of the day you have to know what you are taking,” he said. “So I don’t know if it’s 100% her responsibility but it’s your responsibility.”
Novak Djokovic, the men’s No. 1, wished Sharapova “all the best.”
“I obviously wish her all the best,” the Serb told TMZ. ” I’ve known her for a long time. I feel for her with all that’s happening and I just hope she gets out of this stronger.”
Sharapova’s failed drug test came January 26 after she lost to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals. The ITF said the tennis star was charged with an anti-doping violation March 2. Williams, on Tuesday, said Sharapova showed “a lot of courage” for admitting she’d failed a test.
She began taking the drug for a magnesium deficiency and irregular EKGs, which can signal problems with the heart’s electrical activity, Sharapova said. Her family also has a history of diabetes, she added, and other medications were prescribed to her.
Sponsors were quick to distance themselves in light of her admission, although only one, the watch maker Tag Heuer, appeared to end their relationship with the star. Head, her racket sponsor, even said Thursday it intends to extend its deal with Sharapova.
Nike has suspended its relationship with the tennis star while the investigation continues.
Automaker Porsche, owned by Volkswagen, said Tuesday it was postponing all planned sponsorship activities with Sharapova.
Danone, which owns Evian, said it was shocked by the news and would closely follow the investigation.
Cosmetics brand Avon declined to comment.