Sharapova gets sponsor support
Maria Sharapova has vowed to appeal the two-year suspension handed to her for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open and has found support from her sponsors.
Sharapova's ban, announced by the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday, is backdated to January 26 this year, when she tested positive for prohibited substance meldonium.
The five-time grand slam champion will miss the Olympic Games in Rio this summer while the earliest grand slam she could next enter is the French Open in 2018, though will fight the sanction at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
And high-profile sponsors Nike and HEAD are standing by the the Russian, with Nike lifting the suspension they imposed on their contract when news of her failed drugs test emerged in March.
At the time of the failed test, the sportswear giant said it was putting its eight-year, $70million deal on hold. But in a statement on Wednesday night, it said that it had decided to continue working with Sharapova.
"The ITF Tribunal has found that Maria did not intentionally break its rules. Maria has always made her position clear, has apologised for her mistake and is now appealing the length of the ban. 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," read the statement.
Sharapova's racket provider HEAD never wavered in its support of her, citing her as a "role model and woman of integrity" at the time of her failed test and proceeding to extend her deal.
And in a statement widely reported on Twitter the manufacturer's chairman, Johan Eliasch, said: "Based upon the evidence provided by Miss Sharapova, WADA and by Dr Don Catlin, the Chief Science Officer of the Banned Substances Control Group, it appears that the ITF have made their decision based upon a flawed process undertaken by WADA that clearly highlights how WADA have broken their own rules in determining whether or not meldonium should be banned.
"We believe, based on the facts and circumstances provided to us, that is is a flawed decision. HEAD will continue to support Miss Sharapova."
Sharapova claimed in March she was prescribed meldonium in 2006 for "several health issues" and was unaware it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list from January 1 this year.
An Independent Tribunal concluded, however, that while Sharapova had not deliberately broken anti-doping rules, for which she would have received a four-year ban, she had taken the substance to enhance her performance and failed to make necessary checks regarding its legality.
Sharapova described the two-year suspension as "unfairly harsh".