Canas keeps the ball in court in doping case

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- A newly-ordered review of the two-year-old doping case against Argentine Guillermo Canas has launched the athlete, his legal team and international anti-doping authorities into uncharted territory.

Last week, the Swiss Federal Tribunal sent the Canas case back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, voiding the sanctions imposed on him in 2005 when he tested positive for a masking agent.

It is the first successful appeal in the 23-year history of CAS, whose panels have considered 750 cases since 1984, according to the court's secretary general, Matthieu Reeb. The Swiss Federal Tribunal has jurisdiction over appeals because the CAS is located in Lausanne, but few athletes have gone to that court of last recourse.

"We don't know the grounds for the ruling yet," Reeb said. He said he expects the three-man panel that originally heard the case will reconvene sometime in the next couple of months.

"The sanctions could be maintained, changed or annulled" by CAS arbitrators, Reeb said. He added that any potential damages sought by Canas would likely have to be considered in a different arena, probably a civil court.

The latest twist in the Canas case comes at a time when the anti-doping adjudicatory system is being re-evaluated from within and challenged from the outside, most notably by Tour de France winner Floyd Landis, who is accused of using synthetic testosterone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency will consider revisions in its code this fall based on feedback from member organizations and national federations. Some have argued that existing procedures are overly rigid, impractical or unfair.

Canas' lawyer, Cedric Aguet, said that whatever the result of the CAS review, he intends to file a complaint with European Commission anti-trust officials in Brussels. He said current anti-doping regulations do not allow authorities to consider individual circumstances in cases, thus unjustly affecting an athlete's ability to earn a living.

Although Canas almost certainly will try to seek damages of some kind, "My goal is not to go to WADA and the ATP and say, 'Give us millions,'" Aguet said from his Geneva office Friday. "Our first ambition is to try to clear Willy's name."

Canas' agent and friend Michael Ducote agreed, but has a more emotional view of what he wants the player to recoup.

"He's spent almost $800,000 defending himself, and I want that money back in his bank account," Ducote said during a break in the tournament.

Canas, who turned pro in 1995, was ranked a career-high No. 8 at the time of his suspension. Ducote estimated that he lost between $1 million and $2 million in potential earnings, including endorsements.

Sponsors did not drop Canas completely but reduced their commitment, Ducote said. "He's been playing with two rackets for the last six months" since coming back to the professional tour, the agent said.

"He didn't sleep for 15 months," Ducote said. "He taught himself English so that he could understand the [legal] documents. He wants people to look in his eyes and see he didn't do it, and stop saying bad things about him. He didn't want to cheat and he didn't need to cheat."

The legal developments coincide with an exceptional run by the 29-year-old Canas, who came back from suspension in September and has risen from No. 142 to No. 55 in the ATP rankings. He'll climb to at least No. 37 next week based on his recent results.

Canas has set the tennis world on its ear by finding a chink in the armor of world No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland, defeating him twice this month.

The case against Canas began in February 2005 at an ATP event in Acapulco when he obtained a prescription for cold medicine from a tournament doctor. Canas, then ranked 12th, subsequently tested positive for a diuretic banned by international sports authorities because it can be used to mask other performance-enhancing drugs.

The banned substance, hydrochlorothiazide, was traced to the liquid medication, which was ordered from an off-site pharmacy and delivered to Canas. The ATP panel imposed the maximum sanction on Canas -- a two-year suspension beginning in June 2005, and forfeiture of rankings points and prize money.

CAS arbitrators ruled that Canas ingested the diuretic accidentally but was still responsible for knowing what ingredients his medication contained -- a core principle of the WADA code. The panel reduced the suspension to 15 months and restored some of Canas' money and rankings points.

However, Aguet also argued that the CAS panel should consider the nature of the substance found in the positive test. Diuretics stimulate urine production and thus can be used to try to dilute drug testing samples. But Aguet said the substance could have caused Canas to dehydrate, especially playing in the heat, and thus was potentially dangerous rather than performance-enhancing.

"It was the only (banned) substance found in his body, and it was taken accidentally," Aguet said. "In my view, that argument is relevant to Willy's case. In the CAS award, there was not a single word about that issue. Since we have raised an argument we consider relevant and it was not addressed, Willy's right to be heard has been breached."

The ATP originally argued that Canas did not even have the right to appeal to the Tribunal because players signed a document saying that any decision by CAS would be final. But the Tribunal implicitly rejected that argument by considering the case, Aguet said.

Canas' case was initially heard by an arbitration panel convened by the ATP because at that time, the tour was responsible for investigating possible doping violations. That responsibility has since been shifted to the International Tennis Federation.

Nicola Arzani, the ATP's vice president of marketing operations, said the organization cannot comment on the ongoing case. WADA spokesman Frederic Donzé said it would be "premature" to comment until officials have seen the written ruling from the Swiss court.

The Tribunal has ordered CAS to review the entire case. Technically, the arbitrators are only obligated to re-peruse the documents, but Aguet said he will request the chance to make an oral argument.

In a subplot to the events of the last week, the ATP players' council has asked the tour to withhold wild cards from a player returning from a suspension for the same length of time as the player sat out.

Canas' rapid ascent in the rankings was built largely on strong results in lower-level Challenger events in South America, where he received wild-card invitations to compete.

One of the players who advocated most strongly for the change was Ljubicic, whom Canas beat 7-5, 6-2 in Friday's Sony Ericsson semifinals.

Ljubicic didn't soft-pedal the issue in his post-match press conference.

"The guys were cheating on us, and I don't think we should help them to come back, simple as that," Ljubicic said.

"We actually had long discussions about it, and one of our board of representatives actually says it's like a guy coming out of jail and you are penalizing him even further ... But I feel like it's like -- I don't know. The guy coming out of prison, and you're just giving him a gun straightaway," he said.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.