EXCLUSIVE: WADA Official Hits Back At Head’s Sharapova Comments and Defends The Banning Of Meldonium - UBITENNIS
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EXCLUSIVE: WADA Official Hits Back At Head’s Sharapova Comments and Defends The Banning Of Meldonium

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The Media Relations manager of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Ben Nichols, has branded Head’s remarks on Maria Sharapova’s ongoing doping case as ‘inappropriate’ in an email sent to ubitennis.net.

The prestigious sporting equipment and clothing company has been vocal in their support for Sharapova, who currently has a sponsorship with them. During the Australian Open, Sharapova failed a drug test after testing positive for Meldonium, a substance which was added to WADA’s list of banned substances on January 1st 2016.

On March 11th Head posted a statement of support for Sharapova and questioned the justification for suspending the former world No.1. A week later on March 19th, the CEO of Head, Johan Eliasch, called for the WADA to publish the scientific evidence they used to ban the drug.

“It appears WADA has banned the substance based upon the number of athletes using it rather than its actual efficacy in improving performance. The meldonium investor and drug manufacturer claim the drug should be taken by athletes who wish to protect their health.” Eliasch said during a lengthy statement.

HEAD’S support of Sharapova has been welcomed by her army of fans, however, questions has been raised about their vocal support before her doping hearing has taken place. Ubitennis contacted Nichols in regards to this matter and he has stated that it is ‘inappropriate’ for any public party to comment on an ongoing doping case.

“It is inappropriate for WADA, and indeed others, to comment on the specifics of cases until the International Federation or National Anti-Doping Agency in charge with the result management of the cases has issued their decision.” Mr Nichols told Ubitennis.

Grindeks, the Latvian company that makes Meldonium, said yesterday that the drug could potentially ‘take months’ to leave a person’s body depending on other factors. This leaves the possibility that an athlete could have taken the substance in late 2015 (when it was legal) and still fail a drugs test in 2016. Nevertheless, Nichols stated that athletes have been given sufficient notice about banning the substance and if this scenario occurs, they will need to provide evidence.

The date an athlete sample is collected is the date any subsequent anti-doping rule violation is asserted to have taken place. At any hearing that follows, the onus is then on the athlete to explain how the substance was in his or her body.” He said.

Regarding the legitimacy behind the banning of the substance, Nichols has hit back at critics. He said WADA conducted a very detailed investigation in the substance and gave ‘all stakeholders involved’ a chance to speak about the substance prior to their decision to ban the drug.

“Meldonium was placed on WADA’s monitoring program for 2015, at which time it was being monitored for patterns of misuse”. The WADA head of media told ubitennis.
“During what was a very thorough consultation process in 2015, all stakeholders had the opportunity to submit their comments regarding meldonium”.

Nichols also stressed to Ubitennis that all WADA signatories was notified in September 2015 that the substance would be added to the 2016 list.

There can be no question as to the procedure that was followed, which established Meldonium as a banned substance as of 1st January 2016.” He later added.

Since the banning of Meldonium, there has been over 100 failed positive tests. Apart from Sharapova, other athletes include 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Yuliya Efimova (swimming) and 2013 European indoor 800 meter champion Nataliia Lupu (athletics).

WADA is currently appealing for more money to be invested in the organization. Their president, Craig Reedie, has called for extra funding for his organization to help tackle doping in sport. He has called for sponsors as well as broadcasters to help fund the WADA. Their current budget is approximately $26 million per year. To put this figure into perspective, BT Sport and Sky sports paid £5.1bn for live Premier League TV rights for three seasons from 2016-17.  This equates to $14.5 million per match.

One proposed idea in the fight against anti-doping is to fine the sponsor every time a athlete fails a drugs test. The idea is that if the sponsor was involved, it could act as a greater deterrent for athletes. Putting this idea to Nichols, he remained neutral on the idea, however, he said that ‘time has come’ to look for ways to increase WADA’s funding.

Regarding funding, the WADA President was very clear in his recent speech that he believes the time has come to look at other ways of increasing funding for anti-doping, including asking major sport sponsors to help fund clean sport”. Mr Nichols concluded.

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Legendary Tennis Coach Nick Bollettieri Dies Aged 91 

Bollettieri’s academy helped shape the future of tennis and the number of top players he has worked with is perhaps the most comprehensive in history. 

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Nick Bollettieri pictured with Serena Williams (image via nySportsday.com)

Tributes have poured in following the death of Nick Bollettieri whose long career in the sport established him as one of the most renowned coaches of the Open Era.

 

Bollettieri, who was born in New York to Italian parents, worked with some of the biggest names of the sport with many others also training at his prestigious academy in Florida. He oversaw the rise of stars such as Pete Sampras, Maria Sharapova, Monica Seles, Jim Courier, Jelena Jankovic, and Andre Agassi. He also worked with Boris Becker, Marcelo Rios and Sabine Lisicki. 

The American switched to tennis coaching after dropping out of law school and opened up his academy in Bradenton, Florida in 1978. 

 “I don’t want to be Perry Mason. I want to be Fred Perry.” He once famously said. 

Many credit Bollettieri for establishing a blueprint for future tennis academies and many have followed the example set by him. IMG purchased his academy in 1987 but he remained in charge of the tennis programme for many years. 

News of Bollettieri’s death was confirmed on Monday morning by former world No.2 Tommy Haas who posted a tribute on Instagram. Haas, who is currently the director of the BNP Paribas Open, is another former player who was mentored by the American. 

“So many memories, I am not sure where to begin,” he wrote. “Nickiiiii, that’s how I have called you for the longest time. Thank you for your time, knowledge, commitment, expertise, the willingness to share your skill, your personal interest in mentoring me,and giving me the best opportunity to follow my dreams.
“You were a dreamer and a doer, and a pioneer in our sport, truly one of a kind.”
“I surely will miss you around the academy, our Tennis talks, miss showing off your tan, white teeth and body fat, miss watching you do Tai Chi, miss playing Golf with you watching you try to cheat, eating a Snickers bar and running for the bushes, and hearing all about your plans even at the age of 91. Thanks again for everything……..”

Bollettieri, who also had a stint in the army as a paratrooper, was introduced into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2014. One of the most extraordinary things about him was the fact he was never a professional player and taught himself tennis techniques by visiting a local park to watch others play. It is documented that he worked with at least 19 players who went on to crack the top 10 with 10 of those eventually rising to No.1. Furthermore Mark Knowles and Max Miryni went on to become world No.1 players in doubles. 

“THANK YOU Nick. It’s hard to find the right words and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to. You have given so many children a place to work for their dream,” Germany’s Lisicki wrote on social media. 
“Supporting them with your knowledge and the belief that anything is possible. I was fortunate to be one of them. So many memories we created together that I will cherish forever. You’ve shaped the game of tennis and even just a couple of months ago at 91 you were telling me all about your next plans. You will be dearly missed. Rest In Peace Nicki.”

After initially considering tennis to be a ‘sissy sport,’ Bollettieri became a pioneer in his own right with a career spanning 60 years. Even less than a year before his death he continued to patrol the IMG Academy.

Bollettieri is survived by his wife, Cindi; seven children and four grandchildren.

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Tennis Great Jimmy Connors Criticizes Suspended Ban Of Davis Cup Staff Over Betting Violation

The eight-time Grand Slam winner has hit back at a ruling made by the International Tennis Integrity Agency.

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Jimmy Connors, 62 anni

Jimmy Connors believes tennis needs to embrace bettering after branding the decision to penalize two members of the American Davis Cup team for promoting a gambling organization as ‘going back to the dark ages.’ 

 

Team captain Mardy Fish and coach Bob Byran have been both issued with a $10,000 fine after admitting to promoting a gaming operator on their social media accounts. The duo have also been hit with a four-month suspended ban which means they must not commit any further offences during this period or they will be excluded from ITF events. 

Whilst both Fish and Bryan are retired players, they are still subject to the rules of the International Tennis Integrity Agency (ITIA) as they are considered ‘covered persons’ in the sport due to the nature of their roles. The rulebook states that “directly or indirectly facilitating, encouraging and/or promoting” betting on tennis is not allowed.

“Bob and I did a DraftKings promo during the US Open that we were unaware we weren’t allowed to do,” Fish told The Associated Press via email. “As soon as we found out, I deleted the posts and cooperated with the ITIA.”

Weighing in on the issue, former world No.1 Connors argued that betting can have a positive impact on tennis and that the governing bodies should do more to capitalize on the opportunity. Whilst it is an offence for players and their staff to promote gambling, various tournaments around the world have sponsorship deals with betting companies. 

“So what’s the bad thing? Do they wanna go back to the dark ages?,” Connors said on the Advantage Connors podcast
“That (betting) just brings people more involved and get them more interested you know, what is going on with the players, who is the best, how they compete and so forth.”
“Tennis has been my life, but the excitement of being a basketball fan or baseball fan or football fan, the excitement of bringing that (betting) and being able to get more involved. I wanna watch tennis anyway but what’s gonna make me more involved and to be more part of it?” he added. 

In the past, Connors has been open about his gambling addiction. In his autobiography, the Outsider, he revealed he once placed a $1M bet on his battle of the sexes match against Martina Navratilova in 1992 which he won 7-5, 6-2. He has since recovered from his gambling addiction but still believes it can mix with tennis. 

Connors is the most decorated ATP singles player in history with 109 titles to his name.  

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Age Is Just A Number: Venus Williams Eyes Return To Tour In 2023  

20 years after becomning world No.1, the American still has motivation to continue playing. 

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Venus Williams (USA) playing against Mihaela Buzarnescu (ROU) in the first round of the Ladies' Singles on No.3 Court at The Championships 2021. Held at The All England Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon. Day 2 Tuesday 29/06/2021. Credit: AELTC/Simon Bruty

Venus Williams isn’t giving up tennis just yet after stating that she hopes to resume her career in the new year. 

 

The 42-year-old is currently the oldest player in the world to have a WTA singles ranking and is one of over two to be aged over 40. The other is Japanese world No.752 Junri Namigata who turned 40 earlier this year. 

Despite her age, Williams confirmed that she is continuing to work on improving aspects of her game. This season she has only played four singles matches on the Tour across North America, losing all of them. In the doubles, the American also played at the US Open with sister Serena but they lost their opening match.

“A lot of people have been asking me if I am going to play again. I love tennis and I would like to play again. I don’t know exactly when but I have been hitting the court a lot,” Williams said in her video blog.
“I hit the court right after that doubles match we played at the US Open. I immediately booked a court the next day. Every single practice in New York I have been hitting indoors and I have been hitting ever since. That’s been a lot of fun.”

In recent months the seven-time Grand Slam champion has been troubled by a leg injury which sidelined her from action for a long period. She also suffers from Sjögren’s syndrome which is an autoimmune disorder that she was first diagnosed with in 2004. 

“I’ve been working on a lot of things. Mainly my forehand, probably one of the most important shots in tennis. My serve, the most important shot in tennis is your serve,” she continued. 
“I’ve been working on slicing. I slice like once per year in a match and I played a point yesterday and I sliced four times during that point which was a world record for me.’
“Volleying too and that has been a lot of fun. Been throwing in a couple of serves and volleys.”

Away from the court, Williams has also been working hard at the gym to improve one specific area of her physicality. 

“I have been working on a lot of leg strength. Genetically I have no quads and if I can order them on Amazon I would,” she joked.
“I have put a lot of work into that and lifting in the gym.”

So far in her career, Williams has won 49 Tour titles and earned more than $42.4M in prize money. She held the No.1 ranking for 11 weeks during three separate periods in 2002. Her other accolades include being a four-time Olympic gold medalist and 16-time Grand Slam champion in doubles. 

Williams, who hasn’t won a match since Wimbledon 2021, is currently ranked 1017th in the world. 

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