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10 Mar, 2016 14:43

Sharapova backed by racket sponsor, thanks fans for support over failed drug test

Sharapova backed by racket sponsor, thanks fans for support over failed drug test

Maria Sharapova has received backing from racket sponsor Head, a day after she released a statement on Facebook thanking fans for their support and promising to come back stronger from the scandal surrounding her failed drug test.

Earlier this week, the Russian tennis star revealed she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open in January of this year.

READ MORE:Tennis star Sharapova to be ‘provisionally suspended’ after failing drug test

Sharapova has been provisionally suspended from tennis, but her legal team hope to limit the damage to a ban of less than a year, according to a report in the New York Times.

A number of sponsors have already distanced themselves from the world number seven, with lucrative deals with Nike and Tag Heuer being suspended.

However, racket manufacturer Head today offered it’s backing to the player, when chairman and chief executive John Eliasch said in a statement that Sharapova “has earned the benefit of the doubt" and "the honesty and courage displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable.”

He also signalled the company would continue the sponsorship relationship it has had with the Russian since 2011, saying: "Head is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract. We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships in the weeks and months ahead."

On Wednesday night, Sharapova posted a Facebook statement thanking fans for their support:

“In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession,” the message read.

She also showed her intention to ensure that the scandal doesn’t mean the end of her playing career, writing “I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will.”

Sharapova also gave an insight into how she has been coping with the fallout since she announced the news at a Los Angeles press conference on Monday: “I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That's when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail.

“I have not been online much except the odd search for a new antique coffee table (random, I know), but my friends made a collage for me with all your beautiful messages and hashtags that you created (‪#‎IStandWithMaria and ‪#‎LetMariaPlay). I spent the afternoon reading them next to my dog, who couldn't quite understand why this was more important than the walk he was expecting to take.”

So far, news of the failed drug test has led to a mixed reaction from the tennis and wider sporting world, with some backing Sharapova, and others hinting at more sinister motives for taking the drug than the five-time Grand Slam winner has let on.  

Men’s world number one Novak Djokovic was one to come out in support, telling TMZ.com: “I obviously wish her all the best… I feel for her with all that’s happening, and I just hope she gets out of this stronger.”

Serena Williams, the Russian star’s arch rival on the court, has also offered support, saying: "I think most people were happy she was upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at in terms of the list at the end of the year," USA Today reported.

However, the former head of WADA (The World Anti-Doping Agency), Dick Pound, has told the BBC that Sharapova’s behaviour in taking the drug was “reckless beyond description.”

The inventor of the drug Sharapova tested positive for has questioned the logic of adding the substance to the banned list, claiming to TASS that it could result in athletes’ deaths.

Latvian scientist Ivars Kalvins, who invented meldonium (also known as mildronate), said: “The prohibition of the drug is just a crime,” adding, “Make no mistake, the number of deaths among athletes on the pitch will be growing. Who will answer for this? Not WADA – they’ll shrug it off. This will mean that the athletes themselves are to blame for crossing the line.”

Meldonium only entered the list of banned substances on January 1 this year, and Sharapova says she had been taking the drug for 10 years to treat various health issues. She says she had been prescribed the drug by a family doctor, and knew it by the name mildronate.

Sharapova did, though, accept responsibility for the failed test, saying “I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job every single day, I made a huge mistake. I made a huge mistake, I let my fans down, I let the sport down that I’ve been playing since the age four.”