Maria Sharapova is not retiring. That's the good news.
Such was the rumor when the 28-year-old tennis star and fashion It girl, who has been plagued by injuries and had pulled out of this week's BNP Paribas Open with a forearm injury, scheduled a press conference for today. Instead, she made the rather shocking announcement that she tested positive during the Australia Open in January for meldonium, a recent addition to the International Tennis Federation's banned substance list.
"I wanted to let you know that, a few days ago, I received a letter from the ITF that I had failed a drug test at the Australian Open," a somber Sharapova announced after thanking those assembled for gathering on such short notice. "I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it. For the past 10 years I have been given a medicine called Mildronats by my doctor—by my family doctor—and after I got the letter from ITF I found out it also has another name, of meldonium, which I did not know."
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Meldonium is not approved by the FDA but is used in Sharapova's native Russia, commonly used to treat heart disease.
Sharapova hasn't played since losing to Serena Williams at the U.S. Open quarterfinals.
"It's very important for you to understand," she continued, "that for 10 years this medicine was not on what is banned list and I had been legally taking the medicine for the past 10 years. But on January 1, the rules have changed, and meldonium became a prohibited substance, which I had not known."
She says she was first given the medication in 2006 for several health issues, including a recurrence of the flu every few months, a magnesium deficiency and an irregular EKG result.
"It made me healthy and that's why I continued to take it," she responded to a reporter who asked why she took the substance all those years.
That being said, "Throughout my long career I have been open and honest about many things, and I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job every single day. I made a huge mistake," Sharapova also said during her prepared statement. "I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I've been playing since the age of 4, that I love so deeply. I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game."
Addressing the rumors that she'd be announcing her retirement today, she added, "If I was ever going to announce my retirement, it would probably not be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet."
Sharapova explained that she had received an email Dec. 22 about the changes taking effect Jan. 1 but at the time did not click into the attachment to read the list. She has not yet been informed of any suspension or related punishment handed down by the ITF.