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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, March 14, 2016

Chris Evert

"Science and PEDs have always seemed to be like ahead of the game—if you understand what I'm saying," says Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert.

Photo credit: Zimbio

Maria Sharapova's doping scandal rocked tennis and shocked Chris Evert though the Hall of Famer revealed a couple of players were doping during her playing days.

While she doesn't believe performance enhancing drug use is rampant in tennis now, Evert said she was aware of a couple of players doping during her career—years before the game's governing bodies adopted current anti-doping rules—and asserts it's naive to believe doping doesn't exist in all sports.

More: Angry Nadal Will Sue Over Doping Charge

"I think you'd have to have your head in the sand if you didn't at least assume in every professional sport there might be some sort of PED being used," Evert told the media in an ESPN conference call to promote the network's coverage of Indian Wells and the Miami Open. "Honestly, in every professional sport I think this goes on to a certain extent. In tennis it doesn't worry me as much. This went on when I was playing.

"I know players on the women's tour who were using PEDs (during my career) and we didn't even have drug testing. I think it happens in every professional sport."

The 18-time Grand Slam champion said she was shocked by Sharapova's admission she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium calling Sharapova the least-likely player to be suspected of doping.

"I think it was quite frankly a shock to everybody," Evert said. "Everybody had to process it. Because Maria Sharapova would be the last athlete that you would ever think would be involved in a controversy or scandal like this. She has been such a great ambassador of the sport and so professional. She's always had so much control over herself both on and off the court.

"So I think everybody's just very, very shocked and surprised this even happened. That Maria and her team, who are so professional and organized... it's just hard to believe that they weren't aware of the drug being banned."

The aloof attitude Sharapova displays on Tour has not endeared her to opponents or engendered much support from her peers in the aftermath of her positive drug test, Evert said.

"I don't mean this as a slight to Maria, but Maria has chosen not to have a lot of friends on the tour," said Evert, who has known Sharapova since she was a junior. "She has isolated herself from the players so she's probably not going to have a bunch of players rushing to her defense because she's always been very, very guarded."

The former world No. 1 also suggested the silence of some players to Sharapova's case may be a form of self-protection. Evert believes the science of doping is more advanced than drug testing, which enables some players to gain an edge before a drug is even banned.

"Maybe (other players) don't want to throw rocks at a glass house. I don't know, I think everybody is being very guarded and careful not to point the finger," Evert said. "And I don't have any proof. But my opinion is science and PEDs have always seemed to be like ahead of the game—if you understand what I'm saying. I don't want to say anymore because I don't want to cause any more trouble. But I just think the medical records need to be shown to clear her."

The five-time Grand Slam champion will face a three-member tribunal, which will her her case and rule on the punishment. First-time offenders ban who intentionally ingest a banned substance face a maximum suspension of four years, while players who untintentionally use a banned substance face a maximum suspension of two years.

ESPN analyst Patrick McEnroe said he believes Sharapova will probably be suspended anywhere from nine months to two years based on the information currently available in the case.

"Clearly, she made a massive mistake in that she didn't read (the banned list)," McEnroe said. "So she's going to be penalized and now the question is how long? Nine months, or 18 months or two years, that would be my guess...

"This is an over-the-counter medication that you can get in Latvia and parts of Eastern Europe. ... It hasn't been illegal to take this drug up until a few months ago. So whether or not she was taking more doses than she was supposed to, sort of what Chrissie is getting at with the medical record, even if she was taking it to enhance her performance, up until the beginning of this year, that was legal.”

Both ESPN analysts said they support stripping Grand Slam championships from players who were doping while winning major titles, but both said since meldonium was added to the banned list on January 1st, Sharapova should not be stripped of her Grand Slam championships because the drug was not illegal for most of the 10 years she's admitted using it.

"Absolutely, yes, they should be stripped of their titles if it's found they took drugs during that time when they won the major. No question about it," McEnroe said. "In (Sharapova's) case she took something that wasn't illegal until this year."

Both McEnroe and Evert said it's essential to wait for all evidence to come out before drawing a final conclusion.

"I think it all comes down to medical records," Evert said. "And this drug is used for angina and severe heart issues and there's always suspicion when you hear what the drug is used for. That's why her defense, she needs to show medical records and it all needs to come out.

"And if it does come out cleanly then I would say banning her rest of the year would be enough, that would be my opinion. If something is not banned then I think an athlete can have a clear conscience by taking it. But I have to think at the same time that there are a lot of drugs out there like a meldonium that do help performance that aren't on the (banned) list."


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