Roger Federer backs ITF for handing Maria Sharapova two-year doping ban
Maria Sharapova's commercial sponsors may be rallying around the banned Russian star but she is not getting much sympathy from the tennis world.
The 29-year-old was given a two-year ban for testing positive for the heart-boosting drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January by an International Tennis Federation tribunal.
Wednesday's 33-page judgement cleared Sharapova of intentionally breaking anti-doping rules by taking the recently banned drug but strongly criticised her for failing to check it was no longer legal.
It also painted a damning picture of an athlete who had been taking as many as 30 different pills at one point in her career without fully explaining to the authorities when she was taking them and why.
Speaking to journalists at the Stuttgart Open on Thursday, Swiss tennis great Roger Federer said: "It doesn't matter if they did it on purpose or not, I don't really see the difference.
"You need to know what goes into your body, you have to be 100% sure of what's going on. If you're not, you're going to be damned.
"Of course she's got the right to fight the case, like everybody else as well. I'm just for zero tolerance.
"I stay by my word that we should be saving blood samples for 10, 15, 20 years to come, so you have to scare away the people who think they could cheat."
Federer's sentiments were supported by former British number one and current TV pundit Annabel Croft.
"It was a very damning finding and she's going to pay a very high price for the mistakes she made," Croft said on Eurosport.
"(The verdict) was pretty clear and I think it's a very disappointing day for tennis.
"It makes me think what else is out there that people are on? It's a minefield."
Sharapova, who has been backed by her main sponsors Evian, Head and Nike, has already said she will appeal against the length of her ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The former world number one is not eligible to return to competition until January 26, 2018, and Britain's former Fed Cup captain Judy Murray told BBC Radio 5 Live that it would be "very difficult" for Sharapova to return to the sport three months before her 31st birthday.
"You can continue to train, to keep fit but losing match fitness...that's what helps you win," added Murray.
But in an interview with BBC World Service, the US-based star's former coach Gabe Jaramillo said a comeback was possible.
"She's so competitive and she's so smart that these two years, or year-and-a-half, she's going to be working hard, she's going to stay in shape, she's going to be playing because she wants to come back," he said.
"She doesn't want to leave the game with this thing over her head."
The fact that kit sponsors Head and Nike have maintained their relationships with Sharapova suggests they also believe she will play again but Croft thinks her reputation is permanently damaged.
"I t's very tainted," she said.
"She's had such a glittering career (but) this is a massive blight on her reputation and I think a very difficult thing to come back from."
There was one small consolation for Sharapova on Thursday when American business magazine Forbes released its list of the top earners in world sport.
Sharapova was one of only two women in the top 100 in 88th place - rival Serena Williams being the other, at 40th - with earnings of £15million over the last 12 months, most of it from her various endorsements.