Maria Sharapova’s Suspension Reduced to 15 Months

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) announced today that Maria Sharapova’s two-year suspension from tennis following her use of the banned substance meldonium has been reduced to 15 months.

Sharapova’s ban was announced in June by the International Tennis Federation. The tennis star received notice in March that she had tested positive at the Australian Open for the newly banned substance meldonium (also known as Mildronate), which she said she’d been taking since 2006 for health issues. Sharapova was retroactively disqualified from that tournament and was forced to return any winnings. Her immediate admission of wrongdoing and cooperation were taken into account, and the suspension was backdated to Jan. 26 and was abbreviated from a recommended four years to two.

Now, following an appeal from Sharapova and her legal team, the CAS reduced the sentence to 15 months; the start date remains Jan. 26. The court said that it found Sharapova had taken meldonium based on a doctor’s recommendation, and that “she took the substance with the good faith belief that it was appropriate and compliant with the relevant rules and her anti-doping obligations.” The court also said Sharapova had not been clearly informed by anti-doping authorities of the change in rules and was not an “intentional doper.”

In a statement posted on her Facebook page today, Sharapova said she hopes that the ITF and other anti-doping authorities have learned from the ordeal.

“I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well,” she wrote. I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last ten years was no longer allowed.

“But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where Mildronate is commonly taken by millions of people.”

She also acknowledged her fans: “I thank you so much for living and breathing so many of these tough months together. During this time, I have learned the true meaning of a fan and I am so fortunate to have had your support.”

What will this mean for Sharapova’s career? The ban ends on April 25, which would allow her to compete at the 2017 French Open in May. Meanwhile, Sharapova could be back in the good graces of her sponsor Nike, which had suspended its contract with her during the proceedings.

At the time, the brand said, “Based on the decision of the ITF and their factual findings, we hope to see Maria back on court and will continue to partner with her.”

In 2010, Sharapova extended her longtime contract with the brand for $70 million, making her the highest-paid female athlete at the time. Serena Williams has since taken over that top spot.

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