Maria Sharapova can start warming up for her return to tennis almost a year ahead of schedule.
The Russian-born tennis star’s two-year suspension for a banned-substance violation has been shortened on appeal, making her eligible to return to the court on April 25, 2017.
The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in her favor on Tuesday, reducing her punishment to 15 months.
“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,” Sharapova said in a statement in response to the court’s decision.
After testing positive at the Australian Open for a banned substance called meldonium, the athlete was originally suspended from competition until January 2018. Meldonium, a drug primarily used to treat heart disease because it’s supposed to improve blood flow, had been recently prohibited by antidoping regulators; however, experts are still reportedly debating as to whether or not the drug delivers an unfair advantage in enhancing athletic performance.
Sharapova and her agent, Max Eisenbud, had testified that they were unaware of the medication’s changed status and that she had been taking the medication since 2006 to treat a variety of health problems.
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The court therefore ruled on Tuesday that Sharapova’s original punishment was unfairly harsh. They agreed to reduce her suspension because hers was an unintentional violation.
So, is the five-time Grand Slam champion planning on entering international tennis competitions in 2017?
Sure enough, the plan is for Sharapova to return to tennis in time for the French Open, which kicks off May 22, 2017, presuming she’s offered entry as a wild card.
The athlete, who attended New York Fashion Week last month, expressed her excitement about playing again, stating, “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. I am counting the days until I can return to the court.”