more than a decade you won’t need ear plugs to sit in Centre Court. The wail of Maria Sharapova – that deafening bawl of sufficient volume to scare inbound 747s heading to Heathrow – will be absent. The woman whose filling-loosening screech brings an annual spike in business to dental surgeries across south west London will be sitting out the tournament.
Indeed, there is a fair chance we might never hear her yelping on the courts of the All England Club again.
This week Sharapova was debarred from all competition for two years by the International Tennis Federation, after she was found to have taken the banned drug meldonium at this year’s Australian Open.
At the age of 29 – ad her best playing years already a long way behind her, shoulders weakened by years of damage – the chances of her returning to Wimbledon at the conclusion of her ban are now remote.
And the truth is, that in a dressing room where she was renowned by her peers for a universal air of frosty hauteur, few will miss her.
Not that Sharapova is going quietly. Back in January when it was first revealed she had failed a drugs test, she stage managed a careful mea culpa, largely for the benefit of her sizable portfolio of commercial backers.
She blamed herself for the offence and insisted she would take any punishment handed out. That resolve lasted until the moment if became clear the extent of that punishment. Two years is a substantial ban, particularly damaging for someone whose vast financial power is largely dependent on her presence on court. As soon as she was made aware of the scale of her exclusion and calculated the negative effect on her earnings, she cried foul. And being Maria Sharapova, it was a cry designed to be heard.
Her claim is that she has been harshly treated. Meldonium was first prescribed to her in 2006, she claims, for a heart issue. It was only placed on the list of banned substances from January 1 this year and her failure to cease using it was one of oversight rather than deliberate attempt to secure unfair advantage. She missed the email informing her of its proscription, apparently. Maybe she gets a lot of spam.