Errani suspended 2 months for positive test


TORONTO – The report first surfaced in Italy, in the Corriere della Sera.

And the International Tennis Federation confirmed later Monday that Sara Errani of Italy, 30, failed a doping test earlier this year.

She will be suspended for a period of two months, backdated to Thursday, Aug. 3. Errani, who continued to play through this – almost every week, in fact – can appeal.

She was in Washington, D.C. last week, losing in the second round. Just a day before the suspension officially took effect, she was around the grounds at the Citi Open. Tennis.Life spotted her in the players’ lounge, playing cards with her team, as if none of this was hanging over her head.

Long hearing with testimony

The hearing, which lasted 8 1/2 hours, took place on July 19 in London. Both Errani’s parents and her brother David appeared to testify. The independent tribunal found that she had committed an anti-doping rule violation under Article 2.1

The substance was reported to be letrozole, which is an aromatase inhibitor. The concentration was 65 ng/mL

The sample was provided Feb. 16, in an out-of-competition test. She was charged on April 18 and according to the ITF, admitted that she had taken it. She did not have a therapeutic-use exemption for the drug, which is generally used to treat breast cancer in post-menopausal women (neither of which seems to apply to Errani).

This was the first positive doping test of Errani’s career. She has had 23 urine tests since January, 2014, and 21 blood tests since 2012. All were negative.

Banned since 2001

Years ago, WADA found evidence that body builders, in particular, were using it to help build lean muscle mass.

The substance has been banned for men since 2001 and for everyone since 2005. The ITF has found no evidence that it “would enhance the performance of an elite level tennis playe.

Her results from Feb. 16 through June 7 (the date of another test, which was negative) are disqualified, and she forfeits both the prize money and ranking points earned in that period.

That’s a total of 373 points. Errani, whose career-high singles ranking of No. 5 came in 2013, has found her ranking dipping outside the top 100 this season.

With the forfeiture of those ranking points (which comprise nearly 60 per cent of the total points she has on the computer at the moment), it will drop to outside the top 200.

And yes – that’s nearly four months without a doping test, during which time Errani played 10 tournaments. That’s just poor.

Errani retired at the Australian Open with a leg injury and after playing Fed Cup (she lost both her matches), returned to her parents home in Italy from Feb. 11-12 through to Feb. 28. That’s where the out-of-competition test took place.

Mother battling cancer

During the hearing, Errani’s attorney posited that the Errani “more likely than not”, the player ingested the banned substance by accidentally consuming the anti-cancer medication taken by her mother, a product called “Femara”. 

Fulvia Errani has been battling cancer since 2005, and has had two surgeries and two relapses, the most recent in 2012. Mrs. Errani has been taking Femara (the commercial name for letrozole) since 2012.

Errani doesn’t live with her parents; she is usually in Spain (her coach is Spanish), the U.S., or on the road. She did move back to Italy on a permanent basis last November.

The testimony was that Mrs. Errani keeps the medication on a worktop space in her kitchen, so she wouldn’t forget to take it. She was making tortellini broth on the day in question – Feb. 14 or 15 – and testified as to how in the past, she has accidentally dropped pills onto the counter or the floor in the kitchen.

She testified that on occasion, she had accidentally pushed two pills out of the dispenser rather than one, and created an obvious risk of contamination by having the medication so close to the food she was preparing.

Mrs. Errani said she didn’t tell her daughter she was still taking the medication.

Among the medicines Errani said she was taking were homeopathic products to treat a case of mononucleosis. Those were tested, and none came up positive for the letrozole.

The testimony of Dr. Christiane Ayotte from the Montreal WADA lab was that it wasn’t possible to determine from the level of concentration of the product whether it was indicative of “deliberate use”. She couldn’t conclude for certain that the testimony of Errani’s mother was not credible.

Light degree of fault

The tribunal ruled that the evidence provided by Errani passed the “threshold” test for inadvertent ingestion – but only just.

Here’s the entire report on the hearing. It doesn’t appear as though Errani’s lawyers quite grasped what the criteria were in terms of the defense of this case, to get the lightest suspension possible. They seemed to use the “throw everything up on the wall and see what sticks” defence, while the ITF clearly states that a specific theory about how the substance got into a player’s system must be laid out.

The “no fault or negligence” plea was rejected on the basis that Mrs. Errani’s medication was in close proximity to the food preparation area and even though Errani might not have known what it was, she should have “identified and addressed” the issue herself. In blaming the mother, the fact that Mrs. Errani is a pharmacist and “should have realized the dangers involved”, made that a non-starter.

The tribunal did accept the threshold of “no significant fault.” Within that, there are three levels, the least significant of them being “Light degree of fault”. That carries a suspension of zero to eight months, with a standard ban four months.

Errani’s unblemished doping test record, and her evidence that she had been meticulous in complying with the anti-doing program, led the tribunal to assess that her degree of fault was at the lowest end of the scale – i.e., two months.

Brit Evans announces positive cocaine test (updated)


When Dan Evans, the No. 50 player on the ATP Tour and the No. 3 Brit behind Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund, announced a press conference for Friday afternoon, the first thought was that he was pulling out of Wimbledon.

That’s not normally grist for a full press conference. But a week before the big event, in London, it made sense. He had already pulled out of Queen’s Club this week and next week’s tournament in Eastbourne, allegedly due to injury.

But Evans had far bigger news to announce. 

He was found positive for cocaine during an anti-doping test back in April, at the Barcelona ATP Tour event.

He read from a statement at the Novotel Hammersmith, a hotel near where the Queen’s Club tournament is going on this week (via the Daily Mail)

‘This is a very difficult day for me and I wanted to come here in person and tell you face-to-face I was notified a few days ago that I failed a drugs test in April, where I tested positive for cocaine.

“It is really important that you know this was taken out of competition and the context completely unrelated to tennis. I made a mistake and I must face up to it. And I do not condone for one second to anyone that this was acceptable behaviour. I have let a lot of people down – my family, my coach, my team, sponsors, British tennis and my fans.

“I can only deeply apologize from the bottom of my heart. It is a sad and humbling experience. I hope you understand I will not be taking any questions and I thank you for your support of my career to date.”

Here is the statement from the ITF:

So Evans is only suspended as of Monday – which may well have been when the ITF planned to announce it. But, like Maria Sharapova before him, the Brit decided to get ahead of the curve and announce it himself.

Evans is only the second well-known player to test positive for cocaine and get the book thrown at him. He follows in the infamous tracks of Martina Hingis, the former No. 1 who, a year into a comeback as a singles player in 2007, also announced a positive test for a small amount of the illegal substance. The test occurred, as it happened, during Wimbledon. She was issued a two-year ban.

That seems to be the standard time frame. So it’s likely what Evans is looking at.

France’s Richard Gasquet failed a test for cocaine in 2009. But he was able to convince the independent tribunal of the “unique circumstances” (it’s a good story) and ended up being suspended just 2 1/2 months.

Hingis insisted she was innocent.

“I have tested positive but I have never taken drugs and I feel 100 per cent innocent. The reason I have come out with this is because I do not want to have a fight with anti-doping authorities,” she said at the time. “Because of my age and my health problems I have also decided to retire from professional tennis. … I have no desire to spend the next seven years fighting doping officials. I’m frustrated and angry. Accusations such as these don’t provide me with the motivation to continue.”

Hingis, of course, returned and later became No. 1 in doubles.

Evans did not deny it. And he does have some history

Early patterns changed – until …

Nearly a decade ago, he and fellow Brit Daniel Smethurst were caught out partying at a club at 3 a.m., the night (morning?) before their junior doubles match at Wimbledon. The censure wasn’t all that serious – a four-month suspension of his funding from the British Lawn Tennis Association. Although that was a record. It probably wasn’t the smartest move to hang at a club in the centre of Wimbledon village – where the population of tennis people swells to gigantic proportions during the Championships, and where he was sure to be seen by someone.

Then again, Evans made plenty of bonehead moves in his youth. But after years of seeming not to take his tennis seriously enough, he has come on and reached a career best singles ranking of No. 41 back in March.

The 27-year-old reached the fourth round at the Australian Open after reaching the final of the Sydney tuneup event the week before. Since then, he has won more than one match at an ATP Tour-level event only once.

Ironically, that came in Barcelona, where he failed the doping test.

ITF to step up anti-doping measures


It’s a complete coincidence that the week new anti-doping measures are announced is the same week Maria Sharapova returns from a 15-month doping ban, right?

The International Tennis Federation announced Friday that as of May 1, it will step up its drug-testing program on every level.

The budget will be increased some 50 per cent, to approximately $4.5 million US plus administrative costs. The volume of testing will increase and, perhaps more crucially, the sample storage policy will be strengthened.

The ITF reported 4,899 samples were tested in 2016. That will rise to “up to” 8,000 samples in 2017. Their plan is to collect more – more urine and blood samples, more out-of-competition samples, and to test at more events.

The federation will increase the number of players in the International Registered Testing Pool to approximately 250. And it will increase the number of samples placed into long-term storage. The preservation of those samples allows for re-testing at a later date, as detection methods become more sophisticated or are developed to better detect certain types of banned substances.

We’ve seen the effect of that that in recent months. Anti-doping authorities are only now catching athletes who didn’t complete clean in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing and the 2012 Games in London.

The ITF says stored samples from top-ranked players will be increased “up to 50 percent”.

Precise information still lacking

The information is still somewhat limited, the numbers vague. The ITF doesn’t indicate in the press release how many players already were in the testing pool before this planned increase. Nor does it indicate how many samples are currently stored, nor a precise definition of “top-ranked” players.

As a basis for comparison, the international cycling federation (UCI) regularly updates a comprehensive list of cyclists included in the registered testing pool on its website, sorted by country. The latest list (updated Friday) has the total number of registered cyclists at 1,142, from 60 different countries.

Of course, cycling has had exponentially more high-profile players banned for doping than tennis has. Despite all the previous years of testing, Sharapova is by far the biggest fish they’ve ever caught. The most recent case, a month ago, was an obscure 17-year-old from Uzbekistan named Arsan Arashov.

The ITF statistics for 2016 only specify a range for each player. They also don’t include tests by the players’ national anti-doping entities, or any testing done at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. It is at best not comprehensive, at worst scattershot and vague.

Even Sharapova’s situation was more a timing issue than anything else. The substance she was banned for, meldonium, was legal until Jan. 1 of last year.

The press-release quote from ITF President David Haggerty:

“On behalf of the partners in the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme, we welcome this strengthening of the sport’s anti-doping efforts. Protecting the integrity of tennis is an ongoing priority of the governing bodies of tennis to ensure that tennis is and remains a clean sport, and these enhancements will make a positive contribution to achieving that priority”.

Read the press release here.

New drugs monitored in ’17

The ITF is monitoring some fairly well-known products for 2017. Remember, meldonium was originally placed on this monitoring list for 2015 before being promoted to the banned substances list for 2016.

Codeine, caffeine and nicotine are included on the list.

Also included, among others, are:

Buproprion (brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban). It’s primarily used as an antidepressant and a stop-smoking medication.

Synephrine (sometimes known as bitter orange). It’s already on the NCAA’s banned list.

Telmisartan, a hypertension drug.

How many will end up on the 2018 banned list is not known (we’re thinking they probably have bigger fish to fry than caffeine and nicotine).

(Photo from the ITF’s website)

On the day Sharapova returns, Bouchard throws shade


When athletes offer a frank, unfiltered opinion these days, they do so at their own risk.

So credit to players like Roberta Vinci, Agnieszka Radwanska and, today, Eugenie Bouchard for risking the wrath of the Sharapova legions to speak out about how they feel about her return.

Bouchard, especially, might have minced words, knowing the serious slump she’s in at the moment is easy pickings for major backlash. But the 23-year-old has looked up to Sharapova since she was a little girl – wanted to be her, in all of the superficial ways in which Sharapova is famous.

So, she had her say in Istanbul.

Bouchard’s statement was stronger than most of the others out there, most of whom merely answered a question about whether Sharapova deserved wild cards as she returns from a 15-month doping suspension.

It’s naive in many ways. Not all doping violations are equal; Sharapova hadn’t exactly been caught taking stanazolol for a decade. So to lump every single circumstance under that banner is not thinking it through. But a lot of people out there are going to agree with her.

Interview released for maximum impact

The interview clearly was done before the start of the tournament. So it doesn’t appear Bouchard was just looking for some extra attention on a day all was focused on Sharapova.

Of course the TV network waited for today, as Sharapova returns to action, to post it (it’s the final question).

Even the title on that YouTube video is grist for the mill, because that came nearly three years ago.

Here’s what Bouchard said.

“I don’t think that’s right. She’s a cheater and so, to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. It’s so unfair to all the the others players who do it the right way and are true. I just think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: cheat, and we’ll welcome you back with open arms.

“I don’t think that’s right, and definitely not someone I can say I look up to any more, because it’s definitely ruined it for me a little bit.”

The rest of the interview is so banal as to be nap-inducing. So that strong stand definitely came out of nowhere, unsolicited.

Bouchard has voiced this opinion before.

When Sharapova first announced she had taken meldonium and failed a doping test, just at the start of Indian Wells last year, Bouchard said much the same thing.