Nuria Llagostera, 2009 doubles champion at the WTA World Tour Championships with partner María José Martínez Sánchez and a former world number five in doubles, has been suspended from the circuit by the International Tennis Federation for two years after testing positive for the banned stimulant methamphetamine. The positive result was returned in a urine sample taken during the Bank of the West Classic, a WTA Tier II event held in Stanford, California, in July. Llagostera, 33, was unable to present a medical certificate to justify the presence of the substance in her system and subsequently will not be allowed to return to the WTA Tour until September 7, 2015.
Contacted by this newspaper, Llagostera’s lawyer, Juan de Díos Crespo, did not say whether the decision will be appealed at the Court of Arbitration for Sport. “I am in a meeting now to read the sentence and make a decision,” he said on Monday.
At an independent tribunal, Llagostera said she did not know how the substance came to be in her body, and that while in Stanford she had taken precautions such as eating at the hotel, avoiding restaurants and drinking only bottled water. She stated that she may have mistakenly drunk water from a bottle left on the training courts at Stanford University where the tournament is held, and which is also used by amateur club members.
She said she may have mistakenly drunk water from a bottle left on the training courts
“But I won’t try to prove what is impossible to prove,” she said, while noting that two subsequent tests both came back negative. She also said that the sanction effectively ends her career and pointed out that during her career nobody had ever showed her how to fill out the testing forms that accompany anti-doping controls.
Tennis has traditionally largely been untouched by doping scandals but in 2013 several high-profile players have been banned for failing to adhere to anti-doping regulations. Viktor Troicki, a former world number 12, was sanctioned for failing to provide a blood sample at the Monte Carlo Masters but claimed he had been given permission to delay the test as he was feeling unwell. His ban was subsequently reduced from 18 to 12 months. Marin Cilic was also banned after testing positive for nikethamide in Munich in April, although he has returned to the ATP Tour after his ban was reduced to four months. Cilic, who reached the final of Queen’s this year and is a former top-10 player, said that he suspected he had ingested the substance via glucose tablets bought by a member of his team. Nikethamide is banned within competition but permitted outside of tournament play.
Several top players have spoken out about doping in tennis, with differing viewpoints. Wimbledon champion Andy Murray termed Troicki and Cilic “unprofessional” in a recent interview and called for a zero tolerance approach within the sport. “Whether either player was intentionally cheating or not -- we don't know that, and I don't think either of them are like that -- but both of them were unprofessional,” he said.
“I personally would never go and buy something over the counter in a pharmacy – it’s just unprofessional.”
But Novak Djokovic believes the system is fundamentally flawed and said that Troicki’s ban was a “total injustice.”
“I don’t have any trust in what’s going on,” said the multiple Grand Slam champion last week. “I don't know if tomorrow the representative, the DCOs, who are representatives of Wada [the World Anti-Doping Agency] there at the tournaments, because of their unprofessionalism, because of their negligence, because of their inability to explain the rules in a proper way, I don’t know if they're going to misplace the test that I have or anything worse than that.”
In Llagostera’s case there is a precedent of a methamphetamine ban being overturned. In 2002, Scottish skier Alain Baxter was stripped of his medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics but was later able to prove he had ingested the substance via a Vicks inhaler. He never regained his medal, however.