LOS ANGELES -- Journalists from news sites around the world gathered in a ballroom of The L.A. Hotel Downtown on Monday, anxiously awaiting a news conference with one of the biggest names in women's sports. After Maria Sharapova announced she was going to make a major announcement Monday, there was considerable speculation that the tennis legend was going to retire from the sport. Many in the room prepared stories and tweets to reveal just that as soon as she confirmed the news.
Instead, Sharapova, dressed in all black, took the podium and revealed she tested positive for the newly banned performance-enhancing drug meldonium at the Australian Open. Contrary to what many assumed going into Monday's news conference, when (and whether) she returns to the court will not be her decision but that of the International Tennis Federation.
"I made a huge mistake," Sharapova said of taking the drug that had been banned as of Jan. 1. "I have let my fans down, and let the sport down that I have been playing since the age of 4 that I love so deeply."
What will her punishment be and how long a suspension does she face? Her lawyer, John Haggerty, said intentional PED use can be a four-year ban and unintentional use can be two years. Haggerty says that with mitigating circumstances -- and he believes there are many in Sharapova's case -- it can be much less.
"I know with this that I face consequences," Sharapova said. "I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I'm given another chance to play this game."
The failed test comes at an already challenging time in Sharapova's career. While she is still 28 -- how can she still be so young? -- injuries have repeatedly interrupted her performance. She has played in only three events the past eight months and had already said earlier she was going to sit out this week's tournament at Indian Wells with a forearm injury. Forearm, leg, elbow, shoulder, whatever -- she has been dealing with a lot of body issues. Those are big reasons her ranking has already been slipping (and will continue).
Sharapova's resiliency and determination on the court are well-known. Yet she also clearly has struggled with the pressure of losing repeatedly to Serena, who has beaten her every match they have played since 2005. After Maria finds out when she can return, will she bounce back as she often has in the third set of matches against other opponents? Or will she let this stick in her mind like the Serena losses and add to her woes on the court?
It also will be interesting to see how this affects her endorsement deals. Sharapova is the Roger Federer of women's tennis, with Forbes reporting that she earn $23 million through sponsorship deals last year alone. Positive drug tests rarely help in that area. Look what happened to Alex Rodriguez. Which is why PED use by one of the most famous and popular players is more bad news for the sport of tennis, which already had been dealing with the match-fixing allegations that broke during the Australian Open.
When we last saw Sharapova in January, she was walking dejectedly off the court at Rod Laver Arena. It was the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, and she had been handed yet another humbling loss by Serena.
It was her 18th consecutive loss to her nemesis. But after Monday's announcement, and the ensuing fallout from it, Sharapova now faces an even tougher challenge to her career now than she ever did against Serena.