Serena Williams: Maria Sharapova’s Failed Drug Test Announcement ‘Took Courage and Heart’

In which Serena Williams, the second-highest paid female tennis player, comments on Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid female tennis player, in light of her recent admission that she failed a drug test.

Sharapova announced on Tuesday (March 7) that she tested positive for newly-banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open, where she lost to Williams in the quarterfinals. She said she’s been taking meldonium for health reasons for almost a decade, and it had not been part of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list of substances until January 1, 2016.

Now with Sharapova facing suspension from tennis (not to mention losing endorsements, and becoming the most prominent female tennis player to fail a drug test), Williams said on Tuesday before an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden against Caroline Wozniacki that she was surprised by the news.

Like everyone else, most people were surprised and shocked. But most people are happy with the fact she was upfront with what she had done in terms of what she had neglected. With that being said, she’s taking responsibility, which she was ready to do.

The New York Times notes that while Williams expressed sympathy towards one of her biggest rivals, she “did not ask tennis officials to extend any special treatment toward her. She also did not think Sharapova, a Russian, would face unfairly harsh treatment as a female player.”

That being said, Williams praised Sharapova for taking responsibility.

In sport and in life, there’s always a double standard. Everyone knows that, whether it’s a race thing or sex thing. However, this is a different thing. As Maria said, she’s ready to take responsibility. And that takes courage and heart.

As for Nike’s decision to suspend and reexamine their relationship with the former five-time Grand slam champion, Williams commented, “They’re successful. They make their own decisions. They obviously know how to make decisions.”

Nike has also been a longtime endorser of Williams, who’s won 21 Grand slams to Sharapova’s five. Last year, Williams’ total endorsements earnings was reportedly around $13 million while Sharapova’s was $23 million.

When it comes to medication, Wozniacki added, “Anytime we take any medication, we double- and triple-check. Sometimes even a thing like cough drops and nasal spray can be on the list. So as athletes we make sure not to take something that would put us in a bad situation.”

Meanwhile, in other tennis news, the International Tennis Hall of Fame announced that Belgian player Justine Henin and Russian player Marat Safin would be inducted in July (both becoming the first players from their nations to receive the honors).

Henin, who beat Sharapova seven out of the ten times they faced each other between 2005 and 2010, said of the situation:

It’s not nice what happened. Not good for the game and not good for Maria at the moment. We’re not in position to judge. Some questions need to be asked, and it’s hard to give an opinion. But rules have to be followed.

And Safin commented, “I don’t think it’s intentional. I want to believe so.”