The AFP reported today that both Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse have been suspended from tennis for a year (and fined 1000 euros) by the Flemish Doping Tribunal. Wickmayer, world No. 18 and a US Open semifinalist, was punished for failing to report her whereabouts to drug testers on three occasions. Malisse was punished for not listing his whereabouts twice and for missing one drug test. The players can appeal their suspensions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
Both Wickmayer and Malisse will likely appeal the rulings.* According to Nieuwsblad.be (and my Google-assisted translation), Wickmayer is blaming her lack of compliance on a computer password that didn’t work in the system log. Malisse says a lack of internet access at hotels and tournaments made it impossible to record his whereabouts and says he missed a drug test scheduled during French Open qualifying because he forgot to tell anti-doping officials that he decided to stay in the States. (Hmmmm. . .)
As the suspensions are immediate, Wickmayer is out of the Tournament of Champions in Bali, where she was in the running to be a semifinalist. Malisse was playing this week at the AXA Belgian Masters event.
Reuters is reporting that neither the ITF or WTA are able to comment as of post time:
The International Tennis Federation (ITF) said it had not been informed of the suspensions while the women’s WTA Tour said it was also unable to comment.
“Before we can comment on doping cases until we have been notified in writing by the Belgian anti-doping agency and that has not happened as yet,” an ITF spokesman said.
These bans come as a surprise. As recently as October 23, the AFP reported that both players were off the hook:
Wickmayer, Malisse escape bans in doping row: Belgium’s Yanina Wickmayer and Xavier Malisse will not face suspensions despite falling foul of drug-testing rules. The disciplinary commission of the Flemish Doping Tribunal (VDT) has instead requested a reprimand for the duo.
This is obviously mere speculation on my part, but could the tribunal’s sudden change of heart be the first example of the Agassi Effect?
*UPDATES as of November 6:
Xavier Malisse says an appeal is too costly for him, and that his career is likely over (via the AFP):
“A procedure before CAS is very costly and lasts a very long time,” said the 29-year-old, who has won three career titles and was ranked 19 in 2002.
“I currently don’t have the financial means to take on such a battle. I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but if the suspension is maintained that means the end of my career.”
Yanina Wickmayer’s sometimes coach, Ann Devries, tells Belgian TV that Wickmayer “sounded shattered and hysterical and was in tears when I spoke to her over the phone.“
“Just like that she will lose all that she has gained from several years of hard work. In a year’s time she will have lost all her WTA points and will have to start again from zero,” said Devries. (via tennis.com)
***UPDATES as of November 9
The ITF has accepted the Belgian tribunal’s ruling. Here’s Francesco Ricci Bitti, the ITF president:
“This reminds me of the cases of Italian players involved in betting a little while ago,” Ricci Bitti said. “These players need to be aware of their responsibilities. If they don’t know, this is the result.
“These cases create discussion because they’re not reliant on positive tests, but there are rules to respect,” Ricci Bitti added. “We’re awaiting the details from the Belgian federation. These kids need to wake up. They’re professionals and they earn a lot of money. They don’t need to merely know the rules, they should also respect them.”
“I learned the news around 2:00 a.m. on Thursday night,” Wickmayer told VRT’s Sportweekend. “I think I woke up the whole hotel with my screams and I didn’t stop crying for two days.”
“It was not until June that I learned from the federation that my whereabouts had not been in order,” she added. “Since July, my whereabouts have been in order daily and let’s be clear: I have never failed or refused a test. I have been tested 10 to 15 times this year. I find it such a pity that my name is now associated with doping.”
Kim Clijsters via Twitter:
“It[‘]s very unfortunate what’s happened to Yanina and Xavier this week… While they may not have followed correct administration, they did not register a positive doping offense either… To receive a one year ban because of this seems extremely harsh and is potentially career-ending for both of them… I hope the authorities and athletes can work together on finding better solutions to keep our sports clean.”