Busted Racquet - Tennis

What's that old saying? Once is a mistake, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend? If that's the case, then Yanina Wickmayer's one-year suspesnsion for thrice failing to report her whereabouts to drug testing officials is a fair and legitimate penalty.

From the Associated Press:

Wickmayer said last month she has had trouble with her password in the computerized system overseen by the World Anti-Doping Agency. She also said registered mail at her home could not be signed off on because she was travelling to WTA tournaments.

Yes, Yanina, you're the only player who travels to tournaments and can't sign for registered mail. And that password excuse sounds like something I'd tell an ex-girlfriend whose emails I haevn't returned. 

Maybe she did, maybe she didn't. If it's the latter, then failing to report her whereabouts to officials three times is the height of stupidity. If she did, was she using illicit substances for recreation or to enhance performance?

The use of PEDs in tennis is almost certainly more widespread than anyone thinks. The game is thought of as "clean", but that's only because tennis has one of the worst drug testing plans in all of sports. As Bill Gifford described in a piece for Slate earlier this year:

The International Tennis Federation's testing program hasn't caught any significant drug cheats because it's practically designed that way. According to the ITF's own statistics, tennis's governing body conducted just over 2,000 drug tests last year. Even if you consider that this covers more than 1,000 ranked players, as well as wheelchair tennis players, it still sounds like a lot of testing. But look more closely, and you'll see some Jaws-size holes in the net.

Consider the timing of the tests. Nearly all of tennis's drug testing was conducted during competitions-major tournaments like the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon. But most doping activity occurs during training, not actual competition.

Sports like cycling and track and field-which have had far worse drug problems than tennis-figured out long ago that it's best to test athletes outside competition. But last year, tennis performed just 91 out-of-competition tests. The International Cycling Union, by contrast, did more than 2,000 such tests.

It's naive to think that the use of PEDs in tennis isn't more widespread than reported. The lax drug testing contributes to this perception, but so does the fact that use of these types of drugs wouldn't be clearly noticeable to fans and those in the tennis community. 

Players won't be bulking up like football and baseball players, so the telltale signs of use, like bigger muscles, increased head size and suspicious jumps in home run totals, aren't there. Wickmayer wouldn't be looking like a member of the 1988 East German women's swim team or seeing her serve speed jump 30 mph.

It's far more likely that a blood doping drug like EPO, which is big in both cycling and track, would be in use. Some have debated this, like Stuart Miller who is the head of anti-doping for the International Tennis Federation. From a New York Times article about drug use in tennis from September:

"You normally see [EPO use] in sports where you are trying to maximize some element of physiological performance, like strength, power, stamina, speed," Miller said. Tennis combines these attributes with strategy and hand-eye coordination. "They're good at all of those things," he said. "But they're not trying to maximize those things." 

The "[insert drug here] won't benefit [insert type of athlete] because [insert specious reasoning]" excuse is as old as PEDs. Remember when people thought sluggers couldn't benefit because steroids don't help hand-eye coordination? Or that pitchers shouldn't be bulky because it would ruin the pitching motion? Getting a little boost or a bit more stamina can always help. It's completely naive to presume otherwise.

Wickmayer either doped or she didn't. If it's the latter, then failing to report her whereabouts to officials three times is the height of stupidity. What's the old saying, "once

A theory put forth by Bill Gifford in that Slate piece suggests that perhaps tennis officials have lax drug testing standards because they don't want the sport to irrevocably tainted by drug speculation like cycling and track have. This isn't to suggest that there's some sort of mass conspiracy to allow players to dope, but there certainly could be a little "out of sight, out of mind" action at work. 

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