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Tennis star Maria Sharapova hit with two-year ban for doping

Maria Sharapova was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday for testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

The 29-year-old Russian tennis star, who has lucrative advertising contracts, said she will immediately appeal the suspension.

According to a statement on Sharapova's Facebook page, the ITF "unanimously concluded" that the tennis star "did not seek treatment from [her] doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance."

"The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years — the required suspension for an intentional violation — and the tribunal rejected the ITF's position," Sharapova said.

She said she "cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension."

Maria Sharapova, pro tennis player
Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images
Maria Sharapova, pro tennis player

"The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years," she said.

"I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that's why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible," Sharapova said.

After the ruling, Steve Simon, CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, said: "It is important at all times for players to be aware of the rules and to follow them."

"In this case, Maria has taken responsibility for her mistake from the outset," Simon said in a statement.

"The WTA supports the process that the ITF and Maria have followed. The ITF has made its ruling and, under the Tennis Anti-Doping Program, the decision may be appealed to the Court Arbitration for Sport. The WTA will continue to follow this closely and we hope it will be resolved as soon as possible," he said.

The five-time Grand Slam champion, who is now ranked 26th, was provisionally suspended by the ITF in early March, when she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she failed a doping test in January.

Following the news, a number of Sharapova's sponsors distanced themselves from the world's highest-paid female athlete, including Nike, TAG Heuer, and Porsche. It was previously reported that the tennis star's deal with Nike was worth more than $100 million.

Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency had barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, as of Jan. 1.

Her lawyer, John Haggerty, says Sharapova took the substance after that date.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006.

— CNBC.com contributed to this report.