In May 2014, when golfer Rory McIlroy dumped his tennis-pro fiancée Caroline Wozniacki over the phone, mere days after wedding invitations went out, Wozniacki’s most enthusiastic supporter was also an opponent. Serena Williams became her private and public cheerleader, even telling Vogue: “Let’s just put an end to this myth that women players cannot be friends. We can!”
So it was awfully telling a couple weeks ago when almost no one in tennis came to Maria Sharapova’s defense in her time of need.
On March 7, the Russian-born tennis champ stood before the press and admitted that she had failed a drug test, having tested positive for meldonium — a medication banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since the beginning of 2016 that aids in blood flow and can give an edge when it comes to cardiovascular performance.
“I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it,” said Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner said to be worth some $125 million.
The disclosure sent shockwaves through the international tennis community, as Sharapova was placed on provisional suspension (reports say her cooperation could shorten her suspension to months instead of years). Meanwhile, Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche immediately froze their longstanding relationships with the superstar, who, according to Forbes, made $23 million from endorsements in 2015 (other sponsors include Head rackets, Samsung and Evian).
It was a devastating blow, especially considering that Sharapova, 28, said she had been taking the drug for 10 years for a magnesium deficiency but neglected to notice it had been added to the banned list this year. And Dick Pound, former president of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said that there had been a “fairly high prevalence of [meldonium] use in tennis.”
But if there was any sympathy from Sharapova’s fellow pros, it wasn’t to be found in print.
Wozniacki sniffed, “As athletes, we always make sure there’s nothing in it that could put us in a bad situation.” Petra Kvitová seconded that opinion, telling the Desert Sun newspaper, “We should all know what we are putting into our body.” Said Victoria Azarenka, “A lot of players are upset and disappointed.”
Sharapova’s longtime rival, Williams, gave the closest thing to a pat on the back, saying, “[It] showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at.”
But perhaps the most damning commentary came from the woman long known as tennis’ sweetheart — 18-time Grand Slam champ and ESPN analyst Chris Evert. “It’s hard to tell [the reaction from players] because Maria Sharapova has always isolated herself from the rest of the tennis world, from the players. She doesn’t have a lot of close friendships on the tour.”
As Sharapova told the Telegraph in 2013, “I’m not really close to many players. I think just because you’re in the same sport it doesn’t mean that you have to be friends with everyone.”
‘She most definitely doesn’t seem to have any friends on tour,” confirms a strength coach who has worked with a top-10 female player.
“She is very cold. When Maria walks into [the players’ lounge], things will stop midsentence. Her camp” — coaches, trainers, assistants — “and even [now-ex-boyfriend tennis pro] Grigor Dimitrov would be chatting with everyone, and when [Sharapova] would walk in, Grigor and her coach would make eye contact and know to stop socializing.
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