Maria Sharapova’s two-year doping ban has been reduced to 15 months following her appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The five-time Grand Slam winner, 29, was initially banned by the International Tennis Federation for two years after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
The Russian will be able to return to the tennis court on 26 April, 2017.
“I am counting the days until I can return,” she said.
“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.”
Meldonium, a heart disease drug also known as mildronate, became a banned substance on 1 January 2016.
Sharapova said she had been taking the drug since 2006 for health problems and had “not tried to use a performance-enhancing substance”.
She said she was unaware the drug had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned list.
The former world number one said she could not “accept” the “unfairly harsh” ban when it was announced in June.
The CAS panel said it found Sharapova’s case “was not about an athlete who cheated”.
It added that Sharapova was at fault for not giving her agent “adequate instructions” in checking Wada’s prohibited list and “failing to supervise and control” her agent.
The tribunal ruling said Sharapova tested positive for meldonium after her Australian Open quarter-final defeat by Serena Williams on 26 January and in an out-of-competition test on 2 February.
CAS treated both results as a single anti-doping violation.
Why the appeal has been reduced – the key findings
Sharapova appealed against the original two-year ban on the grounds there was “no significant fault or negligence” on her part.
The Cas panel accepted her claim of no significant fault, saying she had a reduced perception of the risk she was incurring by taking mildronate.
That was because:
She had used mildronate for 10 years without any anti-doping issue
She did not seek treatment from her doctor, Anatoly Skalny, to obtain a performance-enhancing product, but used it only for medical reasons
No specific warning had been issued by Wada, the ITF or the WTA about a change in the status of meldonium
She took a public position acknowledging that she took meldonium and accepted responsibility
Cas said the sanction should be reduced to 15 months “based on its analysis of Sharapova’s degree of fault”.
It said Sharapova “fell short” because:
She failed to monitor or supervise how her agent “met the anti-doping obligations imposed on an athlete”
She failed to discuss with her agent, Max Eisenbud, what needed to be done to check the continued availability of mildronate
She failed to put Eisenbud in contact with Dr Skalny to check if the product had not been added to Wada’s prohibited list
The panel added an athlete cannot “simply delegate her obligations to a third party and then not otherwise provide appropriate instructions, monitoring or supervision without bearing responsibility”.
Why can she return in April 2017?
Sharapova’s suspension is backdated to the date of her first positive test on 26 January 2016, meaning she can return to competitive action before the French Open in May 2017.
But with her world ranking dropping to 95 since her last appearance – and going to fall further – she will need to be awarded a wildcard to play at Roland Garros.
The WTA’s protected ranking rules only allows players who are sidelined with a long-term injury to return to competition to use their ranking at the time of the start of their absence.