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Hingis claims innocence after positive test for cocaine

11/3/2007 - Tennis

In an out-of-nowhere end to Martina Hingis' comeback, the
five-time Grand Slam champion revealed Thursday she tested positive
for cocaine at Wimbledon and will retire for a second time rather
than fight what she called a "horrendous" accusation.

"I am frustrated and angry," the 27-year-old Hingis said at a
news conference in Zurich, Switzerland, her voice breaking as she
fought back tears. "I believe that I am absolutely, 100 percent
innocent."

She read a prepared statement ending with the vow, "I have
never taken drugs," then left without taking questions.

WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said he recently found out
about Hingis' doping test from the player's representatives -- word
had not reached him through official channels because it's an
ongoing case in which a hearing has yet to be held.

Although the formerly No. 1-ranked Hingis said she's retiring in
part because she doesn't want to spend years dealing with the legal
process, Scott said he expects the case to continue.

"Like a lot of Martina's fans and friends and colleagues, [I
am] saddened," Scott said in a telephone interview. "She's a
great legend, one of the most well-liked players on the tour. But
at the same time, I'm ... also mindful that the player has to be
given the presumption of innocence until the process plays out
until the end."

Hingis tested positive June 29, the day she lost in straight
sets to Laura Granville of the United States in the third round at
Wimbledon. That was her first tournament after missing 1 1/2 months
with hip and back injuries.

"I just didn't want to miss Wimbledon," Hingis said at the
time. "Probably at the end of the day, it wasn't, like, the
smartest thing."

Although doping charges usually are announced by a sports league
or event, athletes are told if a sample tests positive. A second,
backup sample then is tested. Mario Widmer, Hingis' manager, said
she learned of the first positive test result in mid-September and
the second two or three weeks later.

"I find this accusation so horrendous, so monstrous, that I
have decided to confront it head-on by talking to the press,"
Hingis' statement said.

She said she hired an attorney who found "various
inconsistencies" with the urine sample from Wimbledon.

"He is also convinced that the doping officials mishandled the
process and would not be able to prove that the urine that was
tested for cocaine actually came from me," she said.

Tennis doping tests are handled by an independent agency,
Sweden-based International Doping Tests & Management, Scott said.

Doping expert Dr. Gary Wadler said urine tests generally can
detect cocaine up to five or six days after its use.

"They say that cocaine increases self-confidence and creates a
type of euphoria. I don't know," Hingis said. "I only know that
if I were to try to hit the ball while in any state of euphoria, it
simply wouldn't work. I would think that it would be impossible for
anyone to maintain the coordination required to play top class
tennis while under the influence of drugs."

Wadler, who used to be the U.S. Open's head doctor, said that
although cocaine is generally not thought of as a
performance-enhancing drug, it theoretically could help.

"The acute effects of cocaine probably, overall, would impair
and not enhance performance. But within a two-hour window, you may
actually have some enhancement -- overcoming fatigue, reaction time,
and so on," said Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at New
York University and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Hingis said her family and management suggested she take a test
that examines a person's hair to check for cocaine use and the
result was negative, although she didn't say when or where she was
tested. Wadler said hair tests usually are not used in sports
because they don't necessarily show recent drug use.

In tennis, a first offense for cocaine draws a two-year
suspension.

Only one woman has been suspended by the WTA because of cocaine:
Lourdes Dominguez Lino of Spain in 2002. Two men, former No. 1 Mats
Wilander and Karel Novacek, were banned after testing positive for
the drug at the 1995 French Open.

Thursday's stunning retirement is not the first time Hingis
walked away from the sport she once ruled, although the
circumstances were far different. In 2002, she quit because of a
series of foot and leg injuries and missed three years' worth of
majors.

When she returned to the circuit full-time in 2006, Hingis
reached two Grand Slam quarterfinals, won two smaller tournaments
and finished the year ranked No. 7.

This season was more difficult, and she was ranked No. 19 this
week.

At the height of her powers, Hingis was brilliant at controlling
points and working every angle on a court. Nicknamed "The Swiss
Miss," she became the youngest major champion of the 20th century
when she won the 1997 Australian Open at 16, and later that year
she became the youngest woman to top the rankings.

She went on to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open that season, too,
coming within a loss in the French Open final of a calendar-year
Grand Slam.

"My weapon on the tennis court is and always was one single
thing: the game, the ingenuity on court," Hingis said. "And for
this style of tennis, there is only one performance enhancer -- the
love of the game."