Even as the dust is still settling on Viktor Troicki’s suspension for refusing to take a blood test in April, a drumbeat of indistinct indications suggests more and bigger doping cases involving tennis players could dog the sport starting any day now. Here’s my understanding of the current status of two such potential scandals.
Croatian Media Reports That Cilic Tested Positive
Multiple Croatian media outlets reported on Friday that Marin Cilic tested positive for an unknown banned substance during the Munich tournament in May. Thanks to Amy Fetherolf and Mateja Vidakovic, there is an English translation of the most thorough of the Croatian articles posted at The Changeover. According to the stories, Cilic found out about the positive test before his second-round match against Kenny De Schepper at Wimbledon. As a gesture of cooperation with the International Tennis Federation and to avoid potential forfeiture of further results, he then withdrew from Wimbledon, informing the tournament that he had a knee injury. He hasn’t played since. Tennis.com’s Matt Cronin has tentatively confirmed the story through his own unnamed source. The ITF has declined to comment on the reports, saying it only issues statements on doping cases when investigations are complete and players are found guilty. Cilic is currently #15 in the world and has been ranked as high as #9. If the reports are true and Cilic is found guilty, he would be the highest-ranked player caught for a doping offense since Martina Hingis in 2008.
There are, however, quite a few problems with the story as it is currently being reported. Cilic is said to have run out of his usual glucose supplement in Munich, and sent a team member to buy some at a pharmacy. Supposedly the package that supplement came in warned professional athletes against using it, but Cilic didn’t read the warning. Glucose (also known as dextrose) is a simple sugar, naturally produced as the human body digests other sugars and starches, and a common ingredient in sports drinks and many other food products. It is not a banned substance, nor would it by itself cause an athlete to test positive for a banned substance. It’s unclear why any product a professional athlete could reasonably mistake for an ordinary glucose supplement would contain any banned substances.
According to the stories, Cilic hopes to play Montreal, slightly more than a week from now. Such hopes are said to be based on a theory that he might receive a three-month suspension dating back to his allegedly positive test at the beginning of May. Such a suspension would be half as long as any other suspension issued under similar circumstances by the ITF-led unified Anti-Doping Program since it was established in 2007. Also, the fact that Cilic has supposedly discussed his still-pending case with media outlets in his home country hardly contributes to the sort of cooperative attitude that might convince an ITF tribunal to be so lenient.
Will the Biogenesis Scandal Implicate More Tennis Players?
Monday’s suspension of baseball player Ryan Braun has drawn renewed attention to Biogenesis of America, a Miami-based clinic led by Anthony Bosch and believed to have sold doping agents to Braun and many other professional athletes until it closed late last year. As the Miami New Times reported in January, company documents suggest that one of those athletes was tennis player Wayne Odesnik, who was suspended for a year by the ITF after he was caught illegally transporting human growth hormone (HGH) into Australia in 2010. Porter Fischer, the former Biogenesis employee who leaked the documents to the New Times, said this week that many professional athletes the company supplied with doping agents had yet to be named, and that tennis was one of the sports involved. However, it’s unclear whether any tennis players besides Odesnik might be implicated, or whether even Odesnik’s alleged connection with the company continued after 2010.
Odesnik has denied in various ways that he has been connected with Biogenesis, but his statements are inconsistent with each other. After the New Times reported in January that Biogenesis documents showed the company billed Odesnik $500 per month, Odesnik wrote in an email:
I have never previously, nor currently, been a client of Mr. Bosch. The copy of the records that were provided do not show any amount paid to Mr. Bosch or to his clinic. These accusations are completely untrue. I have never paid any money, or any monthly fees, to Mr. Bosch. I have never bought any drugs from Mr. Bosch. I have never purchased HGH, nor any other illegal/banned substances from any person, including Mr. Bosch.
Yet after being caught in possession of HGH in 2010, Odesnik told the ITF that, in their words, “he had purchased the human Growth Hormone on professional advice to treat a recurring injury”.
This March when interviewed by Ben Rothenberg for the New York Times, Odesnik seemed unsure whether to say he was never involved with Biogenesis or that his involvement ended in 2010:
I have no idea what that was about… They had called me, and I said I had no idea what that was about. They probably saw my name from three years ago and thought that they’d put my name in something. And yeah, I had nothing to do with it.
Last month, Odesnik told the Associated Press that the Biogenesis documents that implicated him were “erroneous”, continuing that “None of that’s true… I don’t have any connection to it.”
It’s unclear whether we’ll ever find out if any other tennis players had improper connections to Biogenesis. The ITF refuses to comment on whether it is investigating the company or cooperating with Major League Baseball’s investigation. And Fischer told the AP’s Tim Reynolds that after aiding MLB’s investigation, he was “very, very wary” of cooperating with the governing bodies of other sports, implying that he had endured verbal assaults from baseball players and fans and “goons at [his] door”.