Former top junior Ramirez dinged for doping

WIMBLEDON – A decade ago, Mexico’s Cesar Ramirez was the No. 3 junior in the world, a great hope for a tennis nation that hadn’t had a prospect of this quality in awhile.

But on Thursday, the ITF issued a provisional suspension after a positive doping test.

At a Mexico City Challenger in mid-April, Ramirez’s urine sample tested positive for metabolites of nandrolone (19-norandrosterone); boldenone or boldenone-related steroids, drostanolone and old-school stanozolol were found.

That is a fairly comprehensive cocktail.

The ITF charged Ramirez on June 14. The suspension took effect on Thursday. He chose not to exercise his right to apply to have the provisional suspension heard by the Independent Tribunal.

A hearing will determine the length of his suspension.

Now 28, Ramirez had not played singles since October 2015. He had been playing doubles, but hadn’t competed outside of Mexico since Sept. 2015.

A former top junior

Once upon a time, Ramirez had been a legitimate top prospect.

Ramirez
Ramirez and 2014 Wimbledon doubles champion Vasek Pospisil reached the 2008 Australian Open junior doubles final. You can tell by the looks on the faces what the outcome was. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

A decade ago, in his final year of juniors, he reached the doubles final at the Australian Open juniors with Canadian Vasek Pospisil. Ramirez was the top gun; Pospisil, whose junior singles career was relatively modest in terms of the Slams, was the kid all the top guys wanted to play doubles with.

Ramirez was ranked No. 3 after the 2008 Australian Open, among a quality crop of juniors around that time.

He lost to eventual champion Grigor Dimitrov in the Wimbledon junior quarterfinals, reached the French Open junior semis. Bernard Tomic defeated him in the Australian Open junior quarterfinals.

Nicknamed “El Tiburón”, Ramirez also played Davis Cup for Mexico in 2012 and 2014.

But his pro career never panned out as expected, in part because of injuries. He peaked at No. 391 in 2012. He did get close to the top 100 in doubles, reaching No. 105 in 2015.

Other suspensions

There were two other anti-doping announcements from the ITF in June.

Ramirez
Ramirez in action in the 2008 Australian Open junior event. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

On June 7, the ITF finally announced a decision on the case of Yurii Dzhavakian of Ukraine, a 25-year-old currently ranked No. 1009 in singles with a career high of No. 704 last December.

Dzhavakian’s 21-month suspension, backdated to the day he was tested, will expire July 8, 2019. He tested positive for the stimulant Methylhexanamine, a 70-year-old drug that was sold as a nasal decongestant until 1983, and of late as a energy-boosting supplement.

Ramirez
Four youngsters meet at the 2008 Australian Open juniors. Ramirez (far left) will serve a doping suspension. The other three – Pospisil, Bradley Klahn and Milos Raonic – will play in the Wimbledon main draw. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Dzhavakian explained that between singles and doubles matches at a Futures event in hot and humid Thailand, he went to a gym near his hotel to get an energy drink.

He says he remembered the supplement powder as being “Jack3d”. And though he said he was normally diligent in checking drinks for prohibited substances, he said he was “tired, dehydrated, and disoriented in a foreign country.”

The ITF’s efforts to back up his story are almost humorous, as they were hung up on by various people at the gym, and did not find said supplement as being advertised on the gym’s online website. (Yeah …). They determined the player met the standard for “no significant fault”. But barely.

Brazilian Marcondes under provisional suspension

The other provisional suspension, announced on June 1, was that of 21-year-old Igor Marcondes, a Brazilian.

Marcondes tested positive for Hydrochlorothiazide, commonly used as blood-pressure medication but also on the prohibited list as a diuretic and masking agent.

His provisional suspension, pending a hearing, took effect May 21, 2018.

Marcondes reached a career high in the juniors of No. 55 in 2015, and had a lot of success on the Central and South American clay-court junior circuit.

He had played the Futures circuit in Portugal, Egypt and Brazil this season, and is currently ranked No. 788 in singles and No. 678 in doubles.

Errani doping suspension appeal denied

Bad news for the Italian Sara Errani, who will have to serve eight more months’ suspension related to the positive test for letrozole in February, 2017.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport heard two appeals, and the decisions were announced Monday.

The first was from the Italian anti-doping organization, which appealed the length of her original two-months suspension.

The second was from Errani herself. She appealed the disqualification of all of her results (and prize money, and ranking points) from Feb. 16, 2017 (when she tested positive) through June 7, 2017, when she was next tested, and tested negative.

Two months turns into 10

On April 18, 2017, Errani was charged with a violation of the anti-doping rules – the positive test on Feb. 16 was for letrozole, which is a prohibited substance. Errani asked for a hearing before an independent tribunal.

On July 19, Errani appeared before the tribunal, and told the story of how some of her mother’s cancer medication, left on the kitchen counter, may have dropped into the tortellini broth she was making. And thus, Errani claimed she ingested it accidentally.

The tribunal gave Errani a fairly light sentence – two months, from Aug. 3 to Oct. 2, 2017, and ruled on the above-mentioned loss of ranking points and prize money. It determined she “bore no significant fault or negligence for the violation.”

The appeals to the Court of Arbitration for sport were heard all the way back on Nov. 9, 2017, according to the press release from the International Tennis Federation on Monday.

But the decisions were only announced seven months later.

Long delay before verdict

Errani, as you can understand, is rather upset by all the delays and issued a statement Monday.

The Italian federation had been asking for a two-year suspension. The hearing reportedly lasted nine hours.

In the meantime, Errani continued to play.  Ranked No. 280 when she returned to action last September, she raised her ranking all the way to No. 72 this week.

The CAS panel found that Errani “had demonstrated (but only just) the source of the letrozole found in her sample and that her fault lay in the upper end of the ‘light’ range.”

And, as a result, it granted the Italian federation its appeal. The suspension was increased from the two months she had already served to … 10 months.

It also dismissed Errani’s appeal on the loss of points and prize money for the four-month period last year.

Eight more months on the shelf

And so, Errani still must serve another eight months on her suspension. She now can’t return until February 8, 2019. And that has to be more than discouraging.

She played almost constantly upon her return last September, to get her ranking back.

During that same eight-month period last year, she earned 560 ranking points so while she may still be in the top 200 when she returns, it will be only just.

And as soon as she returns from that eight-month absence, she will have another 492 points to defend in the first two weeks.

Errani qualified and reached the second round at the Premier event in Dubai the week of Feb. 19. And then she went to Indian Wells, qualified and won the WTA $125K tournament the week before the main event.

If she can’t come out of the gates strongly, she will barely have a ranking at all and will have to start again, at an even lower level of tournament.

It’s a tough break.

Alizé Cornet cleared of anti-doping sanctions

When Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet was first brought on the carpet for three missed doping-control tests she insisted that at the original hearing, they didn’t want to listen to what she had to say.

Well, the Independant tribunal apparently listened.

Because at her May 1 hearing in London the tribunal found, by majority decision, that the doping-control officer did not do “what was reasonable in the circumstances (i.e. given the nature of the specified location) to try to locate the [player], short of giving [her] any advance notice of the test.”

That applied to the third missed test. And it takes three to trigger a suspension.

So the violation has been dismissed. And Cornet no longer has the threat of a suspension hanging over her head as the French Open approaches.

Provided, of course, that she doesn’t miss more tests.

Cornet was charged on Jan. 11 with failing the “whereabouts” criteria – i.e., she wasn’t available for an unannounced test during the 60-minute time slots she declared on her forms three separate times, during a 12-month period. 

They offered her the option of taking a voluntary suspension. But she opted to keep playing, even with that hanging over her head, because she intended to contest it.

Missed Test No. 1

Corner testified she was asked to take an earlier flight, to get to the Fed Cup site earlier. But she didn’t properly update her “whereabouts” filing.

Missed Test No. 2

Cornet was supposed to be at her mother’s house. But again, she had left before the 60-minute window to catch a flight, worried about the traffic. Apparently they missed her by 15 minutes. Mom cried.

“Missed” Test No. 3

On Oct. 12, Cornet realized the buzzer to her apartment was broken. She went to Moscow for the tournament there, was home a few days, then left again – assuming it was fixed by her father, who is her de-facto handyman.

She found out when her dad showed up with tools on Oct. 26 that the intercom had not, in fact, been fixed. And then she found out she’d missed the doping-control officer two days prior.

She was sitting at home, eating breakfast with her flatmate. But the officer couldn’t get access to the apartment via the doorbell (and didn’t ask any of the three people she saw coming in and out during that time to let her in).

Cornet said that her fellow tenants were pretty slack about letting anyone into the building, and they probably would have, if the officer had asked. In fact, Cornet said, they’d done it for her before.

Cornet’s flatmate (who had seen the doping control officer before and knew who she was) actually left the building to go to work during that 60-minute window. So did Cornet’s next-door neighbour.

“Frank and compelling evidence”

The tribunal agreed that the officer failed to “take reasonable steps” in all circumstances, although they recognized she acted in good faith. They felt it was a borderline case, and the officer didn’t follow paragraph 12.1 that says it “may be appropriate for the (officer) to speak to people he/she encounters during the attempts to see if they can assist in locating the athlete.”

They weren’t too impressed with the officer’s claim that the people who walked out of the apartment complex during that 60-minute period “looked busy”.

And the officer confirmed that she had not heard the buzzer, when she pressed it. 

Conclusion

Cornet can now immediately return to action.

The hearing was held in London on Tuesday, May 1, and Cornet was present for that.

She lost in the first round in Madrid the following week, and pulled out of this week’s tournament in Rome.

But it’s all clear now – and she has two “no-shows” to play with during this 12-month period.

She’s entered in Strasbourg next week. Then comes the French Open.

Madison Brengle sues ITF, WTA Tour over blood tests

Madison Brengle, an American player currently ranked No. 83 in the WTA Tour rankings, filed a blockbuster lawsuit Monday in a Florida court.

In it, the 28-year-old names the International Tennis Federation, the WTA Tour, and the ITF anti-doping arm responsible for administrating drug tests. The suit also names Stuart Miller, Senior Executive director, Integrity & Development for the ITF since 2001.

It also names John Snowball, a doping control officer who also maintains an education manual “and thereby assists in training and supervising” those who collect anti-doping samples.

The suit was filed by lawyer Peter Ginsberg. Brengle also has a local lawyer in Florida, Charles Johnson III.

The suit aims “to hold Defendants responsible for their outrageous conduct in subjecting Brengle to anti-doping blood testing using needles, despite Defendants knowing and ignoring that she suffers from a rare medically-diagnosed physical condition which results in both temporary and permanent physical injury, emotional trauma, and pain and suffering from having a needle inserted into her vein, and thereafter extracting punishment and repeatedly harassing Brengle following her challenge to this conduct,” per the court filing.

In addition to damages “in excess of $10 million”, Brengle also is asking for an injunction permanently restraining the parties from “performing and threatening to perform a venipuncture blood test.

“Permanent swelling and weakness”

Ginsberg provided a statement Monday to The Guardian, which is where Tennis.Life first saw the news of the lawsuit.

“Tennis authorities ignored evidence of her professionally-diagnosed condition and refused to provide alternative testing or a medical accommodation, instead subjecting Brengle to testing that caused her to withdraw from tournaments and has now resulted in permanent swelling and weakness in her serving arm and hand,” the statement read.

The statement also included comments from Brengle, per Reuters.

“I am bringing this action in an effort to force those who control the sport I love to understand that players are not commodities and should be treated with respect and dignity,” Brengle said. “The unbridled authority of officials to subject players to the kind of abuse I suffered cannot be tolerated; players must have a say in matters involving our health and safety.”

If it gets to trial, will be the second high-profile case brought against tennis authorities by a player, after Canadian Genie Bouchard reached a settlement in her suit against the USTA during the trial held in February.

Notably in previous years Serbia’s Viktor Troicki had to serve a 12-month doping suspension when he balked at having a blood sample taken via needle at the Monte Carlo Masters, five years ago next week. “I feel like I’m being treated like a criminal,” he said.

Tennis.Life has read the court filing, and summarized the major elements of it (summary being a relative term) below.

Brengle

Short- and long-term effects

The condition Brengle says she suffers from is called “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, Type I”. She says its induced by venipuncture (i.e. when blood is drawn), and the procedure causes “extreme pain as well as swelling, numbness and bruising” and “severe anxiety due to the anticipatory fear of the excruciating pain that the venipuncture blood draw will cause her.”

The ITF is the organization that administers anti-doping tests. The lawsuit brings in the WTA Tour as it says the WTA “forced” her to undergo the blood testing despite knowing about, and “witnessing the consequences of the effects of the procedure on her.”

“Reasonable modifications”

The suit says the ITF promises players the tests will have no physical effect on their performance and that they are obligated to make reasonable modifications where necessary “to address a medical condition.”

In the suit, Brengle said she had repeatedly advised all parties she couldn’t tolerate the blood testing. And she says the reaction from those parties was to dismiss those concerns and, basically, that it was all in her head.

Brengle told the New York Times in an interview that the medical issue runs in her family. But she had never felt any ill-effects from it until she underwent intravenous sedation for the removal of her wisdom teeth, at age 17.

Wimbledon, 2009

One specific instance alluded to in the court documents occurred at Wimbledon in 2009. Brengle underwent both urine and blood testing. But the phlebotomist’s first two tries at getting the vein on the inside of Brengle’s left elbow failed. On the third try, they got it. But the vein collapsed and Brengle lost consciousness. She suffered a panic attack and “painful bruising”. And after she returned home to Florida, Brengle developed a hematoma and for five days after the incident, couldn’t play tennis without “severe pain in her left arm.”

Brengle

Australian Open, 2016

At the beginnig of 2016, the ITF began compiling “blood passports” for athletes, track records that they hope indicate patterns that can help identify dopers.

Brengle said she said she requested to have the blood drawn after her tournament was over rather than before, given her history. The suit says Miller was “dismissive” of her request and basically told her if she didn’t take the blood test, it would be an anti-doping violation.

The blood test was performed six days before the tournament – this time inside her right elbow. During that test, the suit alleges, the needle “hit a nerve bundle” in her arm, and had to be stopped. Brengle went to the tournament doctor, and due to the bruising and hematoma, couldn’t practice before the tournament. “Even two days before (her) first match, she could not maintain a grip on her racquet when making contact with the ball,” the suit states. She also was unable fully to straighten her arm, and the arm did not return to normal for two weeks.

Wimbledon, 2016

Brengle came into Wimbledon that year in fine form. She reached the semifinals of a grass-court tuneup in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and then qualified and reached the third round at Eastbourne.

But she lost in the first round, to Kurumi Nara of Japen.

The next day, Brengle went to pick up her prize money. There, she was informed she had to undergo a blood test. The suit states that this demand violated the rules of the program because it occurred after midnight following her elimination from the tournament, and thus was “a targeted out-of-competition drug test.”

Brengle says she told the administrator, Mr. Snowball, that she shouldn’t take the test because of the previous issues.

“In response, Snowball streamed at Brengle, publicly called her a liar for claiming she had a medical condition … and accused her of previously lying in this regard at the Australian Open.”

The doctor agreed to draw the blood from Brengle’s foot. And then, Brengle claims, it got nasty.

Brengle Brengle

The American requested a form to complain about Snowball’s conduct. But she claims he “continued to bully and threaten her and told Brengle “that if she said anything about him, then he would say worse things about her.”

As it happens, the man she was complaining about, Snowball, is “responsible for collecting such forms on behalf of (the) ITF.

Brengle said she sent a letter to the ITF, along with photos of the effects on her foot. And she said the response from Stuart Miller was that “Brengle’s behaviour during the Wimbledon … test was unacceptable, and that the ITF was “considering taking action against Brengle for her conduct at both Wimbledon and the Australian Open” in connection with the tests.

US Open, 2016

Two months later at the US Open, Brengle was advised she would have to take another blood test related to the passport program prior to the tournament. 

Given the previous incidents, her father Daniel contacted Stuart Miller to ask that the date of the test be moved up, so she could recover from the aftereffects in time to play in good health in New York.

Miller’s response, the suit claims, was that it “would cost thousands of dollars to do the blood testing earlier,” and asked if Brengle would pay for it. She agreed, but then, she claims the ITF not only refused to have the test done earlier, but informed her that it was now scheduled two days before the start of the US Open.

When she played her first-round match two days later, she “continued to experience pain and loss of feeling in her right arm”, and retired down 6-2, 4-2 to countrywoman Kayla Day. (Brengle won just one more match the rest of the season, and that was when her opponent retired).

Only after all these incidents did Brengle get a medical diagnosis, for which a written report was prepared in November 2016. (You could ask the reasonable question about why she didn’t do this long before 2016, given the 2009 experience. The New York Times story says she was not subjected to a blood test in those intervening seven years).

Brengle
A coaching consult with friend Nicole Melichar was an entertaining moment, during Brengle’s upset of Serena Williams in Auckland in 2017.

Official medical diagnosis

In January, 2017, Brengle’s father Daniel submitted a request to Miller reiterating the need for accommodation in her case. 

Two months later, the suit says, the ITF “acknowledged that Brengle suffered from CRPS Type I, but could not be exempted from the blood tests.”

In May, 2017, the ITF proposed Brengle take only the regular urine tests until the 2017 Open – subject to an independent medical assessment done by a medical professional chosen by the ITF and WADA, at her own expense.

That was done in July. And the suit claims the ITF-selected doctor agreed with the diagnosis. The one-year exemption was granted a month later. A few days after that, Brengle’s father received an email from Miller saying the exemption was “not an admission that her condition was caused by previous venipuncture.”

Happy Valentine’s Day

On Feb. 14, 2018, a doping control officer from the US Anti-Doping Association (USADA) arrived at Brengle’s Bradenton early in the morning for an unannounced doping test. 

Brengle said that the officer arrived after the hour she had stated in her whereabouts filings, and that she was leaving for a doctor’s appointment. But the officer, per the filing, told Brengle that since she had opened the door, she had to submit to the test and if she didn’t, it would be a doping violation.

The officer then drove with her to the doctor (an hour away), “accompanied her to the treatment room, witnessed the entire exmination and listened in on Brengle’s confidential conversations with her doctor.”

They then drove back to Brengle’s home where she did the urine test.

Citi

Two days in a row

The next day, another officer, this time from the ITF, came to her house early in the morning and told her she had to do both urine and blood tests.

Brengle said she wouldn’t take the blood test and the officer warned her that if she didn’t, it would be an anti-doping violation.

She provided the officer with a copy of the latter outlining the exemption and didn’t take the test. But the suit claims Brengle experienced “significant anxiety and mental suffering.”

That’s the short version.   

Experienced sports litigator

Lawyer Ginsberg is a New York-based attorney hired by Brengle last November. Per his website, the New Yorker has a practice that “has spanned professional football, representing chiefly players and coaches in League matters and litigation, NCAA matters, and professional golf, baseball and hockey internal and litigation disputes.”

Ginsberg represented NFLer Ray Rice in his wrongful termination suit against the Baltimore Ravens, getting his client $1.588 million. He also represented former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Wilma in the “Bountygate” scandal.

”She can give blood. She just can’t tolerate the needle in her vein. She could give blood via a pin prick in her finger. She will submit to a urinalysis,” Ginsberg told the Associated Press. ”She’s not trying to avoid being tested. She’s trying to avoid having a needle being stuck in her veins.”

On comeback night, Serena asked about drugs

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. – The first match of the next phase of Serena Williams’ career – the one that includes a husband and baby – began Thursday night at the BNP Paribas Open.

The victory over Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan, while a straight-set, 7-5, 6-3 win, had its solid moments and its rocky moments.

But the ice is broken now. And 14 months after her last match, the Australian Open women’s singles final against sister Venus, the 36-year-old is back.

The questions during her press conference were mostly the expected ones, and Williams seemed in particularly expansive form in answering them.

But one member of the credentialed media chose this night to ask Williams about the backdated therapeutic-use exemption she was granted nearly three years ago, at the 2015 French Open.

The TUE was part of the batch of documents leaked by the Fancy Bear hacker group shortly after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

Williams answered firmly, passionately about her belief in competing clean – especially now that she’s a mother, but also before that.

Listen here:

Williams said that she needed the TUE to be able to take a decongestant because without it, there was no way she would be able to play the French Open final.

She was indeed, very sick at the time – constantly hacking. The TUE was for prednisolone; the leaked document dated June 8, 2015 for a six-day exemption between June 5 and June 10.

June 8, 2015 – it should be noted – was a Monday. It’s more than likely, given the way these organizations operate, that they wouldn’t have officially issued the document over the weekend. But they may well have issued a verbal or official consent for Williams to take the medication.

At any rate, Williams used the inopportune opportunity to give a clear, strong statement about how she feels about competing clean.

Alizé Cornet nailed on “whereabouts” rule

MELBOURNE, Australia – French player Alizé Cornet says she was dope-tested some 20 times during the 2017 season.

Unfortunately, on three occasions when the doping control folks went to her home for an unannounced test, she wasn’t there.

Three strikes on the “whereabouts” rule, and you’re out. And so after the third one, in October, Cornet may be out for a while pending a hearing in March.

The ITF rushed out a press release after Cornet announced the news on her social media Wednesday.

But it provided little additional information. The ITF confirmed Cornet had failed to be available three times during the 12-month period. And it confirmed it charged her with the violation on Jan. 11, shortly before the Australian Open began.

“In accordance with the TADP rules, no further comment will be made pending determination of the case, except as may be necessary to respond to public comment by Ms. Cornet or her representatives.”

In her note, Cornet said that she missed all three test for “valuable (sic) reasons that the ITF didn’t want to hear.”

(Cornet translated “valable” to “valuable”; in fact, she meant “valid”).

In response to that, the ITF’s press release denied that Cornet’s stated reasons for missing the three testing opportunities went unheard. They wrote that the process, including “the right for the player to request an independent assessment of whether the requirements for such failures were met, was followed in all three instances.”

(They may have misinterpreted Cornet’s statement, or taken her literally. The original expression in French is more likely to mean that while the ITF technically “heard” the reasons, they didn’t accept them as valid. Her French statement also adds “for the moment” to the ITF’s stance).

The immediate consequence of this is that Cornet cannot represent France at the upcoming Fed Cup tie against Belgium at home (the Fed Cup is under the ITF umbrella). She can, however, continue to play WTA Tour events until the matter is heard.

She’s not the only no-show; Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia also won’t play.

Not the first time for Cornet

You’d think, based on her history, that Cornet would never get to the point where she’d have three strikes on the whereabouts charts.

Back in 2013, she had two strikes and talked in a TennisMag interview about feeling as though she had the “sword of Damocles” pointed at her.

“I choose the 6 a.m. morning slot every day, even during tournament periods. That way, I’m sure I’ll be in my bed,” she said. “I refresh the software every day and I try to be very rigorous about this … And yet, I already have two “no shows” hanging over me this year.”

Tennis precedent in Belgium

A failure on the “whereabouts” rule is rare. But it does happen.

The most notorious instances both involved Belgians.

Back in 2009, both Yanina Wickmayer and countryman Xavier Malisse were suspended a year by their national federation for failing the whereabouts rule. 

The case dragged on for a long time. And it got complicated. First, a Belgian court suspended the bans so they could resume competing. Then, WADA was set to appeal the suspension – wanting two years, rather than one.

Two years later, they appealed to a higher court in Belgium to have the ongoing investigation suspended. There was an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it was never heard.

Bellucci banned 5 months for diuretic

Brazilian lefthander Thomaz Bellucci hasn’t played since September, ostensibly because of an Achilles tendon injury.

But it turns out that the former top-25 player was serving a doping suspension, and no one knew it.

And because of that, not only did Bellucci have to claim injury throughout his absence, he also will miss the Australian Open.

It was revealed in the Brazilian media Thursday (the quotes here are from the website Esportes Mais) that the 31-year-old tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide and its metabolite, chloraminophenamide, during the Bastad Open in Sweden back in July.

As a result, he was given a five-month suspension, which was only revealed Thursday through an official statement from the player.

It’s a five-month ban, beginning Sept. 1, 2017 and expiring Jan. 31, 2018.

Bellucci claims the positive test comes from a contaminated supplement. 

Hydrochlorothiazide is a diuretic often used as a masking agent, which is why it’s on the banned list.

No appeal, lawyer says

His lawyer, Pedro Fida, said the two parties agreed on Dec. 31 (the day after Bellucci’s 31st birthday) that the Brazilian wouldn’t appeal the suspension.

Fida said that the ITF was preparing a statement to be issued Friday (they like to drop on Fridays, to clear their desks off for the weekend). But he jumped ahead of the story, much like Maria Sharapova did for her positive test back in 2016., and Brit Dan Evans after his positive test for cocaine last summer.

Bellucci found out about the positive test after he had travelled to Shenzhen, China in mid-September.  

“After a long review of the facts by the ITF, the entity opted for a soft sentence of five months, the minimum possible in a case like this, which could be up to four years, having taken into account the diligence and the reputation of Thomaz, as well as all medical and scientific evidence presented, together with the unintentional consumption of the substance and the lack of performance improvement,” Fida wrote in a statement.

“The ITF warned Thomaz with this (minimum) sanction because he understood that he should have checked the origin of the multivitamin, verified whether the dispensing pharmacy complied with regulatory standards and whether it was reliable.”

Account accepted, minimum suspension imposed

As a result of the news coming out, the ITF issued a statement Thursday e-mailed at nearly 11 p.m., London time.

“Mr. Bellucci’s account of how the hydrochlorothiazide got into his system was accepted and that he bears No Significant Fault or Negligence for the violation. The Programme provides for the start date of the period of ineligibility of five months to be backdated due to the prompt admission and for delays not attributable to Mr. Bellucci,” the ITF statement reads.

“Therefore, the start of the ban is back-dated by two and a half months …  and by a further six weeks… As a result, the ban is deemed to have started on 1 September 2017, and so will expire at midnight on 31 January 2018.”

In the Esporto Mais piece, Bellucci says he would never take a diuretic, pointing out that he has trouble keeping weight on, not the reverse.

(The Brazilian is one of the heaviest sweaters on Tour; there is some evidence that hydrochlorothiazid can cause excessive sweating).

But, of course, that’s not the reason athletes in the past have misused hydrochlorothiazide; they’ve used it to cover up the use of more serious banned substances, like steroids.

Bespoke supplement to combat sweating

According to the ITF’s report on the case, a Brazilian biochemist custom-designed the supplement, one of three Bellucci took to try to combat the excessive sweating issue.

(It’s more than a wringing-wet shirt issue; the loss of vitamins and minerals through perspiration is a crusher in terms of stamina for long matches).

“I proved that it was not my fault. I never took any kind of supplement or any other substance that would favor me or that would violate the fair play rules of the sport. You could never imagine that a multivitamin made by a drug store could suffer cross-contamination in minimal doses. I have always been careful and respected the rules of the sport,” Bellucci said in the statement, per Esportes Mais

“It was precisely at a time when I was recovering from injuries and making a major transition in my career, from moving to Florida, setting up a training base there to reach my maximum potential on the circuit in the next few years.”

Per the ITF’s report, Bellucci personally brought the remaining supplement capsules from one of the prescriptions, along with another supplement he bought on Amazon, to a lab in Los Angeles for testing. 

(Kids, don’t buy your supplements on Amazon if you’re subject to dope testing.)

He also submitted hair samples in order to produce a negative test for steroids.

Interestingly, Bellucci had not disclosed any of the supplements on the standard form players fill out. Players are supposed to lost every single thing they ingest on those forms.

Bellucci told the ITF he mistakenly thought that “his daily consumption of vitamin pills” did not need to be on the form. (Kids, have you learned NOTHING from the Sharapova case?)

Nonetheless, the ITF believed that he’d taken the supplements that week in Bastad.

Interestingly, the biochemist in question had been involved in a similar case in 2016 involving another athlete (the details are redacted in the ITF’s report) who tested positive for the same reason.

 “Silent Ban”

In a letter received by the ITF dated Oct. 11, Bellucci waived “any right to challenge any part of the sample collection procedure or laboratory analysis in relation to sample number 3089061, instead accepted that the laboratory had accurately detected HCTZ and its metabolite in his sample, and therefore accepted that he had committed an anti-doping rule violation.”

Bellucci

But … Bellucci did not accept a “voluntary provisional suspension” when he first received the news, in order to leave the options open in terms of appealing it.

In the wake of other so-called “silent bans” where the player flat-out had to lie about an injury to explain their lengthy absences, the ITF changed its procedure.

It now announces such voluntary provisional suspensions (or mandatory suspensions) before the case itself is resolved.

That change was made for cases arising after Sept. 1, 2016.

At the time, the ITF gave this rationale:

“The reputation of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme and, consequently, of tennis, have been damaged by accusations that players have been allowed to serve bans without those bans being made public (so-called ‘silent bans’). This rule change will prevent any further similar accusations.”

Given that many players would opt to retain the right to fight a doping suspension in court, and therefore not accept a “voluntary provisional suspension”, the Bellucci case reveals that the announced change remains more cosmetic than practical.

Then again, there are so few positive tests announced that it only occasionally comes into play.

When Bellucci announced on his website that he was pulling out of Shenzhen, Beijing and Shanghai, he cited his ongoing Achilles tendon injury. But he had travelled to Asia and was practicing there. And he didn’t play the rest of the season.

The Brazilian’s ranking has dropped considerably in the last couple of years. He could well have finished out the season on the South American clay-court Challenger swing, near home. That’s his favorite surface. And that would have given him a shot at raising his ranking to ensure he could make the Australian Open main draw by direct entry.

Small concentration, big consequences

The concentration of hydrochlorothiazide found, 30 ng/ml, is quite small.

As a comparison, it’s almost exactly the same concentration found in the fourth test administered to American Varvara Lepchenko that was found to contain meldonium, the same substance that cost Sharapova 15 months of her career. 

Lepchenko did serve a sort of “silent ban” through the first few months of 2016. She wouldn’t discuss it when the news leaked out, either. (The ITF only announced the positive test in Sept. 2016).

The American tested positive for meldonium in a concentration of 12,630 ng/ml the first time, on Jan. 7. By the fourth time she was tested, the sample found was so small (29 ng/ml) that the ITF accepted Lepchenko’s claim that she had stopped taking it before it officially became a banned substance on Jan. 1, 2016.

Bellucci’s doubles partner not affected

Bellucci forfeits a total of €8,575 in prize money from Basted, along with 90 doubles ranking points. His doubles partner, countryman Andre Sa, did not have his points and prize-money forfeited, because the ITF considered that Sa would be able to show that “he was not implicated in Mr Bellucci’s ADRV and that their results in the doubles competition were not likely to have been affected by the ADRV.”

Bellucci will return for the South American clay-court swing, beginning with the Quito Open in Ecuador in early February.

(ADRV – Anti-Doping Rules Violation)

The full decision is here, if you want to read it.

 

More minor doping suspensions

The International Tennis Federation is still swimming with the guppies as far as catching drug cheats.

An appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld a two-year suspension assessed to unknown 17-year-old Kazakh player Arsan Arashov, who tested positive for meldonium in June 2016.

Last week, the ITF imposed a provisional suspension on American Spencer Furman, who tested positive for D-amphetamine at the Challenger in Cary, NC in September.

It was the only pro match Furman, 20, had played all season.

He’s a sophomore at Duke University, and has no ranking.

Adrian Barbu gets provisional suspension

Who is Adrian Barbu, you ask?

Well, he’s a 34-year-old Romanian currently ranked No. 505 in doubles.

His career high of No. 265 came all the way back in 2005. He has no singles ranking; his best of No. 752 also came back in 2005.

And the ITF has announced that he has received a provisional suspension for a positive doping test.

It’s for the serious stuff: nandrolone metabolite (19-norandrosterone) and methenolone (metenolone) metabolites. 

It’s been about a year since the ITF began announcing provisional suspensions, to combat the perception that some players were serving so-called “silent bans”.

They apply only to mandatory provisional suspensions, and those that are accepted voluntarily.

Per the ITF, Barbu chose not to exercise his right to appeal the provisional suspension. As little prize money as he has earned in 2017 (about $3,500 US), hiring a lawyer seems impractical.

The suspension went into effect Oct. 22, pending a full hearing which likely would determine the length of the official suspension.

Challenger level led to dope testing

Barbu’s positive sample came on Aug. 16, 2017, at the Challenger in Meerbusch, Germany.

At that tournament, he was given a solid by his much higher-ranked countryman Florin Mergea, as they got direct entry into the draw.

They lost in the first round.

Mergea is ranked in the top 50 on the ATP Tour in doubles, and was in the top 10 just two years ago.

He also partnered his countryman for a series of four Futures events in Romania over the summer. They won two and reached another final, which allowed Barbu to raise his ranking from outside the top 800.

Barbu would have to forfeit about $1,200 in earnings and, more importantly, 28 precious ATP Tour ranking points. That would drop him out of the top 600, assuming it’s an issue on the back end of the potential suspension.

The announcement continues the ITF’s trend of catching only guppies in the professional tennis pond. But it does offer a window into where the players are being tested.

Barbu played 10 Futures events between May and early August. And nothing positive came up, assuming there was even any drug testing going on. But in his first tournament at the Challenger level, the Romanian got dinged.

He had basically been retired for more than a decade. Between July, 2006 and this past May, Barbu had played just one Futures event – all the way back in 2011.

Marino comeback delayed indefinitely

SAGUENAY, Québec – Canadian Rebecca Marino was all ready to start the second chapter of her tennis career.

She traveled to Montreal from her home in Vancouver, practiced for a few days, and made the five-hour drive to Saguenay Friday.

The plan was to arrive at the $60,000 ITF Pro Circuit tournament there before the 6 p.m. deadline to sign in for the qualifying and prepare for a first-round match on Saturday.

But the 26-year-old forgot one detail.

It was a crucial, significant detail.

Marino never told the International Tennis Federation, the Canadian anti-doping program and Tennis Canada that she was coming back to play. In fact, she didn’t notify them at all.

And that means Marino can’t play – for at least six months.

Retiring easier than un-retiring

The official retirement form is filed with the WTA. It’s a simple form – eight lines including name, last tournament played, official retirement date, e-mail and so on.

The retirement then is on-passed to the ITF, which runs the anti-doping program. And then the player is placed on the federation’s retirement list.

It’s not mandatory. But by not making it official, players subject themselves to all of the restrictions and rules – and tests – of the anti-doping program.

Marino was added to the list, effective Feb. 20, 2013.  

Marino

If a player wants to “un-retire”, they have to reverse the process. And that includes alerting all of the proper authorities.

Marino
The ITF spells out the criteria for a player returning from retirement. And there needs to be six months of active duty in the anti-doping program.

The reinstatement form isn’t that much more complex than the retirement form.

Marino
The rules for reinstatement are fairly clearly spelled out.

Marino can appeal it. But the only stated reason for waiving the six-month period is “where the strict application of that requirement would be manifestly unfair to a Player,” per the ITF rules.

It doesn’t spell out what it considers “manifestly unfair”. But in other areas, such as provisional doping suspensions, it indicates that such exceptions are rare.

No exceptions – not even a former No. 1

The reasons for that pre-return testing period are obvious, and so need not be stated here.

It’s a rule that got retired American player Andy Roddick a few years ago, when he wanted to play doubles with his great friend Mardy Fish to help him say goodbye to pro tennis at the US Open.

As it happens, Roddick officially retired four days before Marino did, on Feb. 16, 2013. In his case, a three-month period on the anti-doping program was required, and there wasn’t enough time.

Eventually, Roddick did apply for reinstatement, which became effective July 16, 2015.

Why Marino didn’t know about this or didn’t make sure she completed whatever paperwork was required is a question mark. Tennis Canada would not make her available to answer a few questions, not even on site. 

The Vancouver native only began training again with an eye towards coming back to the game at the beginning of September. Even had she looked into all the details on the very first day she stepped on the court for real, she still would have been more than four months short.

Tennis.Life had contacted both the ITF and the WTA Tour this morning just to ensure that Marino had, indeed, completed the reinstatement process (sometimes you have an intuition …).

But with the WTA Tour having basically shifted operations to Singapore for the Tour finals, no immediate response was forthcoming. As for the ITF, well, it was … Friday afternoon. If either provides additional information, we’ll update the story.