Tennis star Maria Sharapova's two-year doping suspension has been reduced by nine months, the Court of Arbitration for Sport announced on Tuesday.
The five-time Grand Slam champion tested positive for meldonium, a heart medication newly banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, at the Australian Open in January. Sharapova had been taking the drug since 2006, and claimed that she failed to read the email update from WADA that it would be placed on the banned list starting in 2016.
Her argument apparently convinced arbitrators, who ruled that a two-year penalty was unduly harsh for an athlete who had violated the rules unwittingly.
"I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career to, now, one of the happiest days," Sharapova said in a statement on Tuesday.
Her suspension is now 15 months, retroactive from her failed January test, which puts her on schedule to return next April. Sharapova will still miss the 2017 Australian Open, so the suspension will have cost her an appearance in all four majors. The first Grand Slam tournament she will be available to play in will be the 2017 French Open. Had the initial two-year ban been upheld, Sharapova wouldn't have been cleared to play until January 2018.
The suspension cost Sharapova endorsements from Tag Heuer and American Express, dropping her from the top spot on Forbes' "Highest-Paid Female Athlete" list for the first time in 11 years. She still finished No. 2 thanks mostly to a lengthy list of endorsements from companies like Evian and Head.
Head's chairman Johan Eliasch issued a congratulatory statement to Sharapova following the ruling, while also taking a swipe at the drug-testing process: "There is an urgent need for a wholesale comprehensive review and change to the antidoping system."
Sharapova will be 30 years old by the time she takes the court again, so we'll have to see if she can regain her form as one of the world's elite players.