Maria Sharapova's doping ban reduced to 15 months by CAS

BY: Telegraph.co.uk
Maria Sharapova will now be free to compete at Wimbledon in 2017

Maria Sharapova has had her two-year doping ban reduced to 15 months after a successful appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).

The reduction, after the Russian tennis star tested positive for meldonium in January, was widely expected as the debate around the drug meldonium rages on.

In a statement on her website, Sharapova siad: "I am counting the days until I can return to the court.

"I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well. CAS concluded that 'the Panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the [ITF] Tribunal'."

Sharapova will now be free to compete again in April 2017, with her ban beginning with her positive test earlier this year.

Her legal team were expected to argue that the 29-year-old's high profile had prompted International Tennis Federations (ITF) to be unreasonably harsh in banning Sharapova, in order to make an example of her.

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The appeal also attempted to highlight that other athletes with cases similar to that of Sharapova have received no ban whatsoever for taking meldonium.

There remains a lack of consensus on how long it takes meldonium to leave an athlete's body and, thus, whether athletes received enough warning prior to it being added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) 'banned list' of substances in January.

However, Sharapova's critics and anti-doping campaigners will point to the fact that she was warned five times in the month prior to her positive test that meldonium would be banned.

Sharapova was delighted with the Cas ruling: "I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.

"In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it.

"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.

"Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through."

Cas has form for reducing bans handed out by the ITF, having reduced Marin Cilic's drugs ban from nine months to four in 2013.

Sharapova was sentenced to a two-year ban from tennis in June, having tested positive in January and announced the news herself at a press conference in March.