Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has denied claims she was warned five times that the drug meldonium was to be added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.
The 28-year-old Russian claimed not to have read the list of recently banned substances during her shock announcement on Monday (March 7) that she had failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.
She insisted she was prescribed the medication, a heart attack drug, for health issues dating back to 2006, including magnesium deficiency, an irregular heartbeat, and a family history of diabetes.
The substance was moved from the monitored to the prohibited list by WADA on January 1, due to “evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”, with the organisation confirming yesterday that 99 athletes have tested positive since.
Although Sharapova admitted failing to open an email on December 22, informing athletes of the changes to tennis’ anti-doping programme for 2016, she denied claims she had been warned on several occasions that meldonium was set to be banned.
“A report said that I had been warned five times about the upcoming ban on the medicine I was taking,” Sharapova wrote on her Facebook page.
“That is not true and it never happened.
“That’s a distortion of the actual 'communications' which were provided or simply posted onto a webpage.
“I make no excuses for not knowing about the ban, I already told you about the December 22, 2015 email I received.
“Its subject line was 'Main Changes to the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme for 2016', I should have paid more attention to it.
“But the other 'communications'?
"They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts.”
While Sharapova has stated that she has been taking the substance for 10 years, claiming that she had been prescribed it by a family doctor, the Russian denied taking meldonium every day.
It followed claims from the manufacturers of the drug that between four to six weeks was a recommended course of treatment for the substance.
Their course would be undertaken around two or three times per year.
“Only physicians can follow and evaluate a patient's health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time,” Sharapova wrote.
“That’s exactly what I did, I didn’t take the medicine every day.
“I took it the way my doctor recommended I take it and I took it in the low doses recommended.”
Sportswear giants Nike, car company Porsche and watchmaker Tag Heuer have all severed or are reviewing their sponsorship ties with Sharapova as a result of her failed test, ahead of the former world number one appearing at an International Tennis Federation hearing on March 23.
However, Dutch racket manufacturers Head vowed to back Sharapova and released a statement questioning why the substance was added to the WADA banned list.