Even before her initial two-year ban from the International Tennis Federation, Maria Sharapova was one of tennis’ most famous stars. During and upon her return from her reduced suspension, fame has turned to infamy, but should the Russian be given a reprieve by her fellow athletes as she tries to once again conquer the sport she loves?
The 30-year-old is not the first disgraced athlete to ‘cheat’ her sport and is certainly not going to be the last given the huge ongoing investigations by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), yet her stardom has paved the way for her cleaner co-stars to voice their concerns on the matter, not least of all world No.1 Andy Murray.
Wimbledon-winning Scot, Murray was perhaps surprisingly scathing in his opinion of Sharapova, saying it was ‘wrong for players to take a drug that was not required for a specific medical condition’ while Canadian Eugenie Bouchard called Sharapova a ‘cheat’ who should ‘not have been allowed back’ into the game.
Maria Sharapova is always trying to paint Serena in a bad light. The irony is that people can see right through it. She's pathetic.
— Young Gambino (@EnClaudeNeuf) September 7, 2017
But back into the game, Sharapova is. Returning to the tour in April, the five-time Grand Slam winner had, had a mixed bag of results, with injuries which were beginning to hamper her glittering career before the ban, returning to force withdrawals from the entire grass season including Wimbledon 2017 as well as the Canadian Open later in the year.
So it is perhaps little surprise then that Sharapova is making more headlines off the court still than she is on it, lambasting her critics and fellow professionals with ESPN quoting her as saying: “They don’t have the facts. They will be used as headlines…This is my career and I faced it head on, and I admitted my mistake.”
Sharapova went on to say: “I served my suspension and now I’m back.” So, should everyone be able to just forgive and forget? Like any citizen who is deemed to have done wrong in the eyes of right thinking people, Sharapova has served a period of disqualification from normal life as punishment for those misdeeds. She no longer has unspent time for which she must still be punished.
Maria Sharapova denies being a drugs cheat – despite being caught. pic.twitter.com/GuJ0w8qmQK
— Mal Alexander (@malvinos) September 14, 2017
While Murray, Bouchard and multiple other stars wax lyrical about how cheaters should not be allowed to play again, the once-popular Russian has served her time in what could have been the golden years of her career. Is that not punishment enough?
After all, the now-world No.103 may never reach the dizzy heights she once could. Injuries mixed with over 12 months without competitive tournament play can have untold psychological and physical effects on an athlete’s body and mind.
Look at Justin Gatlin, the man who received nearly as many boos upon receiving his 2017 World Championships gold medal, as the retiring darlings Usain Bolt and Mo Farah did cheers throughout the competition.
The man who presented Gatlin with the glittering award had previously stated that the American should have been ‘thrown out of athletics’ with London 2012 poster girl Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill stating he should have been ‘banned for life’ for his second doping suspension in 2006.
Now, something of a pantomime villain, Gatlin knows his misdeeds will never be forgiven nor forgotten, and yet that seems to have made him stronger. Sharapova too must now learn that infamy can be just as useful as fame.
Sharapova just needs to do her talking on the court – not to the media – and know that the best she can now be is a successful villain; cheaters can sometimes prosper, just not in a way they would like.