Saturday, December 31, 2005
French Open Finalist Puerta Banned
Mariano Puerta was a long shot when he reached the French Open final in June. Now, the Argentine is facing the longest doping ban in tennis history.
The 27-year-old Puerta was banned for eight years Wednesday for his second doping offense, effectively ending his career. He is the first tennis player to receive a ban of more than two years.
"I find it extraordinary that it could ever be thought satisfactory that a person's livelihood can be terminated in circumstances such as these," Puerta said in a statement.
Puerta tested positive for the cardiac stimulant etilefrine after losing to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final on June 5.
The three-man International Tennis Federation tribunal said the drug apparently came from effortil, a medication Puerta's wife takes for hypertension.
"We accept on the balance of probabilities that the player's contamination with effortil was inadvertent," said the ITF tribunal, which met Dec. 6-7. "The amount of etilefrine in his body was too small to have any effect on his performance."
The ITF said Puerta will be disqualified from the French Open and his results nullified, but he will keep his place in the record books as a finalist.
Puerta was banned for nine months in 2003 for using clenbuterol, an asthma medication with some steroid-like properties, and faced a possible lifetime ban for a second infraction. But an ITF tribunal said he was given a lighter penalty because the positive result in Paris was inadvertent.
Puerta did not dispute the drug was in his body, and the ITF accepted his plea of "no significant fault or negligence."
The eight-year ban is retroactive to June 5. Puerta has three weeks to appeal, but said he would not make a decision before the end of the year. The ITF panel said it expected the case to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The ITF said it was unclear how and when Puerta ingested the drug, but "we cannot see how it need have occurred at all if the player had exercised the utmost caution."
"My position has always been that I did not deliberately or knowingly ingest any prohibited substance," Puerta said. "The tribunal accept that the substance ... entered my system entirely inadvertently and without my knowledge as a result of accidental contamination by an over-the-counter medicine which my wife was taking."
Besides forfeiting his prize money from the French Open, Puerta will give up his titles, prize money and ranking points won after Roland Garros. He is currently ranked No. 12 on the ATP Tour.
Since the French Open, Puerta has earned about $330,000 in prize money.
The ITF's sanction was welcomed by World Anti-Doping Agency chief Dick Pound.
"You're dealing with somebody who's tested positive twice in less than two years and clearly doesn't think the rules apply to him," Pound said.
Puerta, who joined the ATP Tour in June 1997, won his third career title in April at the Grand Prix Hassan II in Casablanca, Morocco. He also won in Palermo, Italy, in 1998, and Bogota, Colombia, in 2000.
"It's awful news because Puerta is a nice guy," Argentine Tennis Association president Enrique Morea said. "They have ruined his career."
Puerta is one of six Argentine players caught up in doping cases in recent years. Guillermo Coria, Juan Ignacio Chela and Guillermo Canas served doping suspensions, and Martin Rodriguez received a warning for a positive caffeine test.
The other, doubles specialist Mariano Hood, has acknowledged testing positive for a banned drug at the French Open.
Bulgarian teenager Sesil Karatantcheva tested positive for the steroid nandrolone after losing in the quarterfinals at the French Open, the French sports daily L'Equipe reported Tuesday.