It has just been announced that the International Tennis Federation has suspended former number 1 tennis player Maria Sharapova for 2 years. This is a very steep punishment and shows that the ITF does not play around when it comes to the integrity of the game. Suspending Sharapova for 2 years is surely intended to send a message to the rest of the players that there will be a zero tolerance policy and don’t even try to get away with using banned substances. MLB should be taking notes. If you are unfamiliar with the Sharapova doping story, she recently tested positive for taking a banned substance called Meldonium. Meldonium is a drug used to increase blood flow and to treat a condition known as ischaemia, which is a lack of blood flow to parts of the body. When used by athletes it can increase performance and boost excercise capacity. The ITF made this drug illegal and warned all players that they would now be testing for this drug. Up until January 1st, 2016 Meldonium was not on the banned list; thus the reason for the announcement. Sharapova still tested positive for Meldonium even after these warnings. The typical use of the drug for medical reasons is 4-6 weeks… Sharapova was taking it for 10 years. Many fans of hers would love to give her the benefit of the doubt, but really 10 years. Anyone who is taking a drug that’s borderline illegal for athletics for 10 years clearly knows that it’s giving them some kind of advantage.
Back to the main point of the article. Can she come back? That depends on what coming back means. If it means coming back to win majors it’s unlikely. Even without the suspension she wouldn’t be favored to win any of the upcoming majors. Most people do not follow tennis as closely as I do. Sharapova’s name and celebrity has a lot of casual fans confused to her level of dominance. Sharapova has never been a dominate player and her accomplishments pale in comparison to either of the Williams sisters, especially Serena. So even without the suspension she could a long time without a major title. Maria Sharapova is currently 29 years of age. So she should be right in the tail end of her prime. The women’s game is very top heavy right now, with Serena at the top and everyone else beneath her. This is good for Sharapova, if she can come back and play well she might be able to find herself back in the top 10. However that will be a very difficult task. Singles tennis is all about pressure and how you handle it. In tennis you are out there by yourself without teammates to help you on a bad day. I don’t think the world appreciates the mental toughness it takes to go play a 2 hour match with millions of people watching and it’s all on the player. Even in golf the player has their Caddy. It will be very challenging for Sharapova to get used to this pressure again; as she’s not one who has handled pressure greatly in the past. When she feels nervous her serve becomes a huge liability and the double faults start multiplying. If she comes back she will need to work on perfecting her second serve because she will need to believe in her serve if she wants any chance. Additionally it will take time getting used to playing with the best players in the world. Now it’s not like she’s not going to be able to play or practice tennis. The way it works is most top players have full time hitting partners who are usually highly skilled male players; so they’re just about as good as the top women players. This will keep her from getting rusty, but you can not replicate the intensity of a real high stakes match. Getting back to the getting used to the intensity of playing on the tour is just going to take time, unfortunately Sharapova doesn’t have a lot of it. I really think this might be the end of Sharapova’s career, she has too many interests outside of tennis for her to be focused on a goal of a return 2 years from now and I don’t think she has the mental toughness to do so. If this suspension is upheld I don’t think we will see Sharapova play in another Major.