LAUSANNE: Maria Sharapova’s two-year doping ban has been reduced to 15 months after her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The five-time Grand Slam winner, 29, was initially banned by the International Tennis Federation for two years after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
The Russian will be able to return to the tennis court on 26 April, 2017.
“I am counting the days until I can return,” she said.
“In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it.”
Meldonium, a heart disease drug also known as mildronate, became a banned substance on 1 January 2016.
Sharapova said she had been taking the drug since 2006 for health problems and had “not tried to use a performance-enhancing substance”.
She said she was unaware the drug had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) banned list.
The former world number one said she could not “accept” the “unfairly harsh” ban on its announcement in June.
The CAS panel said it found Sharapova’s case “was not about an athlete who cheated”, but added she “bore significant fault for her violation”.
It added that Sharapova was at fault for not giving her agent “adequate instructions” in checking Wada’s prohibited list and “failing to supervise and control” her agent.
The tribunal ruling said Sharapova tested positive for meldonium in an out-of-competition test on 2 February, as well as in the aftermath of her defeat by Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open last January. It treated both results as a single anti-doping violation.
However, she has not played professional tennis since losing to 22-time Grand Slam champion Williams.
Her suspension is backdated to January 26, meaning Sharapova can return to competitive action before next year’s French Open in May.
“I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April,” she said.
“I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well. Cas concluded that ‘the panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the ITF tribunal’.
“I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last 10 years was no longer allowed.
“But I also learned how much better other federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where mildronate is commonly taken by millions of people.
“Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through.”