Whereabouts rules create testing times

2/25/2009 - Tennis
Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP/Getty Images

When Sam Querrey was deciding whether to rent an exotic villa named "Luna Creciente" in Puerto Vallarta over Christmas, he considered its ocean views, its Jacuzzi, its outdoor pool. The gym equipment, maybe. The games room. The private cook.

Not his anti-doping paperwork.

But when it came time to let drug testers know where he could be found during the break, Querrey realized that Luna Creciente didn't have a house number or a regular address -- just its name.

"So that's what I had to give them, and they looked at me like, 'What are we supposed to do with that?'" he said.

Fortunately for Querrey, the directions were never tested because no anti-doping officers decided to come knocking. Had they tried but got lost, the 22-year-old American could have found himself with one strike on his testing record.

A player who gets three strikes over 18 months faces a one-year ban from competition.

Since the beginning of this year, all sports that have signed up to the WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) code have required athletes to provide detailed information on their whereabouts for out-of-competition testing. In tennis, this currently includes the top 50 singles players and top 10 doubles players on the ATP World Tour and the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour, and the pool could be increased down the road.

Once a quarter, athletes must provide a day-by-day list of addresses where they can be found for the next three months. Plus, they must also designate one hour between 6 a.m and 11 p.m every day during which they will be available for an on-the-spot test at a stated location.

Should plans change, the information can be updated by computer or text message.

But if testers arrive during the designated hour and find the athlete absent, that's a strike. So is not giving testers enough information to locate you during the designated hour. Official guidelines specifically warn against giving vague information, "e.g., running in the Black Forest." (Or "poolside at Luna Creciente," presumably.)

Many sports and national anti-doping organizations have had whereabouts requirements for years, but these were less demanding and varied substantially. Tennis players, for example, had to provide whereabouts information only during the offseason. Some sports required it year-round but only five days a week.

The new, stricter regime is designed to close loopholes and unify the program across all sports that have signed up to the WADA code. But it has also drawn protests from athletes on several fronts, including a court challenge in Europe.

For nomadic tennis pros, the biggest challenge is simply to predict where they will be on any given day. Far-flung tournament locations, travel time and never knowing how long they might last in an event make advance planning difficult.

This issue was foreseen during WADA's initial consultation phase. "We did highlight to WADA that we would anticipate that … tennis players would need to make fairly regular updates," said Stuart Miller, head of the ITF department that runs tennis' anti-doping program.

Though players are expected to fill out a complete whereabouts calendar -- or at least have their coach or agent do it for them -- it is understood that these are not cast in stone.

Changes can be e-mailed or texted at any time, meaning that the players' main challenge is to remember their original schedule and then remember to notify the ITF when they adjust their plans. Whereabouts information is shared among anti-doping agencies but otherwise kept strictly confidential.

"They can update their whereabouts right up to the last minute," said Miller -- as long as it's not too often. "If a player exhibits a pattern of last-minute updates to his or her whereabouts, then that would be something that you stop to look at a little more closely."

Even if players do manage to be in the right place at the right time, getting tracked down by testers is hardly a welcome event. For simplicity, many players pick the earliest possible times of 6 or 7 a.m. as their testing hour, because they reliably can be found asleep at home then. But that also means the occasional unexpected wake-up call, followed by having to groggily provide a urine and/or blood sample under the watchful eye of the visiting official.

"You're literally out of bed -- I pretty much know that the only time my home phone rings, it's them," said Andy Roddick.

"They come in with their equipment, somebody watches you go and then you have to prove that you're you, with ID. And it's like, um, they came to your house. You hope it's not a blood test that day because needles aren't that fun. They take it and go on their merry way.

"It's a little bit awkward."

But after watching baseball's strife this month when Alex Rodriguez admitted past steroid use, Roddick feels he can almost take pride in the imposed inconveniences.

"It makes me prouder that we have the strictest testing in sports," he said. "If I were to go to San Francisco for dinner and spend the night, I would have to call it in.

"And also the people that fail drug tests get suspended, get fined. Unless someone's ahead of the curve, like BALCO was five years ago, I think tennis does everything it can."

Querrey agrees. "I was watching the Alex Rodriguez baseball interview … he said in the last five years, he thought he had been tested eight times. I've been tested 25 times in the last two years," he said.

As long as he's at a proper street address, the laidback Querrey doesn't see the testing as a big hassle. "If someone comes to my house in California, it's usually the same two people," he said. "They're nice. I hope I don't go to the bathroom right before they knock on the door, but it's usually pretty [harmless], takes 10 minutes.

"They're just doing their job … There's no pressure. You get time."

Others have had different experiences and see the measures as too extreme. "These new rules are so draconian that it makes it almost impossible to live a normal life," Andy Murray told reporters at Rotterdam two weeks ago. "I got a visit at 7 a.m one morning at my home right after I had traveled home from Australia.

"The official who came to my home wanted me to produce identification to prove who I was. He insisted on watching me provide a sample, literally with my trousers round my ankles, and then insisted that I write down my own address even though he was at my private home at 7 a.m."

Rafael Nadal has said the system makes him feel "like a criminal" and Serena Williams described it as "invasive."

Whether players tolerate it or hate it, whereabouts appear to be here to stay. Doping techniques like "micro-dosing" mean that a number of substances can pass through the body in 24 hours, said Miller, making surprise tests essential.

Though unwilling to be drawn on technological advances that may make the tracking process easier -- like Google's recently-launched Latitude service -- Miller said the ITF and anti-doping organizations are open to such possibilities.

For the moment, however, Miller reports that the players seem to be managing despite their grousing. "We're not seeing major problems across tennis at all," he said. "We're getting excellent compliance from players and we're managing the system fairly well as far as I'm concerned."

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.