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Ruling in Maria Sharapova appeal postponed to September

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland — A ruling on Maria Sharapova’s appeal of her two-year doping ban has been postponed until September, ruling her definitively out of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport said on Monday that Sharapova and the International Tennis Federation agreed to defer the decision, which had been due to be issued by next Monday.

CAS, the highest court in sports, said both parties wanted more time to prepare their case and also cited “scheduling conflicts.”

A verdict is expected by Sept. 19, the court said.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player, tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January and received a two-year ban from the ITF. She filed an appeal last month, seeking to overturn or reduce the sanction.

The parties agreed then to an “expedited procedure” that would allow CAS to issue its ruling this month. Had the suspension been annulled, that would have made Sharapova eligible for the Olympics in August.

The decision to push back the ruling to September also rules out any possibility of Sharapova being cleared to play in the U.S. Open, which runs from Aug. 29-Sept. 11.

“Due to the parties requiring additional time to complete and respond to their respective evidentiary submissions, and several scheduling conflicts, the parties have agreed not to expedite the appeal,” CAS said in the statement.

Sharapova’s lawyer, John Haggerty, said the decision was by mutual agreement and will give her team additional time to prepare its case.

“CAS is the court of final appeal and this extension will be helpful.” Haggerty said in a statement. “We are hopeful Maria’s suspension will be reduced, but in all cases, these additional two months will not impact our expectations of what can be achieved.”

Sharapova acknowledged taking meldonium before each match at the Australian Open. She said she had not been aware that meldonium, also known as mildronate, had been banned by World Anti-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1.

An independent three-person panel appointed by the ITF ruled that Sharapova did not intend to cheat because she didn’t know meldonium was banned, but that she bore “sole responsibility” and “very significant fault” for the positive test.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006.

Her ban is due to end on Jan. 25, 2018, which would keep her out of eight Grand Slam tournaments, along with the Olympics.

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.

Djokovic announces Agassi will coach him at French Open

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ROME — Novak Djokovic is joining forces with Andre Agassi in an effort to return to No. 1.

Djokovic announced Sunday that Agassi will coach him at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic said. “So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what (the) future brings.

“We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit,” Djokovic added. “He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”

The second-ranked Djokovic split with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members – fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic – at the start of the month.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, won eight Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slams.

“Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m going through. On the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him.

“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated. He’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”

The pairing is the latest in a series of top players working with former standouts, from Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, and Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang.

Djokovic was coached by Boris Becker the last three seasons, but they split last year.

Vajda started working with Djokovic in 2006.

Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray last year after a slump in form following his French Open triumph.

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, lost in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.

Djokovic finished 2016 at No. 2, his current ranking. He’s won only one of his last 11 tournaments.

While Agassi has not coached a top player before, Djokovic said his record as a player and spokesman of the game was enough to convince him.

“He’s a legend of our sport,” Djokovic said. “He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis.

“He was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others. That’s why he was so interesting.”

Agassi has already been offering advice on the phone.

“He’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV,” Djokovic said. “So he knows players, he knows everyone that I was playing against in (the) last couple of weeks, so we talked before every match.

Djokovic added, “I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”