Monday 27 February 2017

Nike suspends relationship with Maria Sharapova after failed drug test

PA

Maria Sharapova is facing a possible four-year ban
Maria Sharapova is facing a possible four-year ban

Nike has suspended its contract with Maria Sharapova after the five-time grand slam winner announced she had failed a drug test.

The 28-year-old Russian revealed on Monday that she had tested positive for meldonium following her quarter-final defeat against Serena Williams at the Australian Open in January.

Meldonium, which Sharapova said she had legally taken throughout her career, was placed on the banned list by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the beginning of the year following ''evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance''.

Sharapova claimed she did not realise the substance was illegal, but took ''full responsibility'' for her actions.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said Sharapova had been informed of the positive test on March 2 and she will be provisionally suspended from March 12.

A statement from sportswear giant Nike 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."

Tag Heuer followed Nike's response by deciding not to renew their contract with Sharapova which runs out at the end of the year. "In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations, and has decided not to renew the contract with Mrs. Sharapova."

Sharapova also has endorsement deals with Porsche, Avon and Evian.

Former British number one Annabel Croft believes if Sharapova is given a two-year ban or more for failing a drug test it could spell the end of her career.

Croft told BBC Radio Five Live: "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.

"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."

Sharapova, though, remains hopeful she can return to the sport after serving her punishment.

The ex-world number one said: "I let my fans down, I let the sport down that I have been playing since the age of four and I love so deeply.

''I know with this I face consequences. I don't want to end my career this way and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.''

Press Association

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