Tennis has had an interesting 2016 thus far, with the biggest surprise being Sharapova’s failed drug test at the Aussie Open. My personal opinion is that her case shouldn’t be treated lightly and a lengthy ban is the only response necessary for an athlete who admits to using a performance enhancing drug throughout her entire career. I’m positive the media would’ve wanted to ride that wave for many months, going back and forth about whether or not Sharapova was guilty or innocent, then after the verdict on Sharapova’s ban from the game, media will spend a few more months building up fans about what their view is on the length of the ban and if it was appropriate or not.
Sharapova is a powerhouse in the sport of tennis, and she has certainly made friends in high places throughout her career. Having said that, there hasn’t been many professional tennis players coming to her defence, perhaps Novak Djokovic has been the most supportive of all and Serena Williams was also sincere about her thoughts on the issue. In my opinion, it is of no surprise that we have a new debate, the one on equal prize money in tennis, once again. This has certainly come out of nowhere, thanks to Raymond Moore’s misogynistic statement about equal pay in tennis (costing him his job as the CEO and tournament director at the BNP Paribas Open and rightly so) and Novak Djokovic’s very ill-informed statement about equal pay. I wonder just how much of this comes down to redirecting the fans’ focus onto another topic which in my opinion isn’t as important as doping in tennis at present.
The tennis world is a small one, almost like one big family at the highest level. Of course there are rivalries and friendships but the one thing that you will always see in the tennis world is the desire to protect the image of the game and the players’ welfare. At some point you have to accept that there are players who don’t care about the game of tennis, integrity of the sport and other players’ welfare but rather, their own individual success and living off the limelight and endorsements that this sport provides them. In my opinion, Sharapova is the latter and anyone who comes to her defence is also much similar to her in nature. As a former professional tennis player tennis and coach at present, I insist that we have to name and shame professional tennis players who proactively play ‘around’ the rules for years and once they get caught, insist that they are innocent. The response from Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Kristina Mladenvovic is exactly what this sport needs. The tour is not made up of one or two terrific players, instead there are thousands of players worthy of their shot at the highest level and it’s time that we give them a chance at success. Being over-protective of players at the highest level is the core issue here and it needs to change now.