Five-time Grand Slam tennis champion and former world number 1 Maria Sharapova has announced that she failed a dope test at the Australian Open inadvertently earlier this year.
The Russian great said she made a “huge mistake” as she was not aware of the updated list of banned substances of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Sharapova tested positive for Meldonium, a drug she said she had been taking since 2006. The drug was added to the banned list of substances only this year.
“I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it,” Sharapova said at a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday.
“I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply,” said Sharapova while trying not to break down.
“I know that with this, I face consequences and I don’t want to end my career this way — and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game.”
Sharapova has been “provisionally suspended” by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) but it is still not clear what punishment she’ll face for failing the dope test.
“Ms Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case,” the ITF said after they confirmed that Sharapova failed the dope test on January 2.
In the press conference, Sharapova said she was cooperating with the ITF. Her attorney, John Haggerty, said the positive test could ban her from tennis for up to 4 years, but mitigating circumstances could see a lesser penalty.
Shamil Tarpishchev, head of the Russian Tennis Federation, told the TASS news agency that he believed Sharapova would still have a chance to play at the Rio Olympics in August.
US sportswear maker Nike has pulled the plug and disassociated its brand with the tennis star.
“We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova…We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues,” said Nike said in a statement.
Reports say watch brand Tag Heuer has also said it will not renew its contract with the tennis champion.
(With inputs from PTI)