By HOWARD FENDRICH
Former Top 20 player Varvara Lepchenko was given a four-year doping suspension on Friday by the International Tennis Federation after she tested positive for a banned stimulant during a tournament last year.
Her lawyer, Howard Jacobs, wrote in an email to The Associated Press that Lepchenko intends to appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The 35-year-old Lepchenko, who has represented the United States in the Summer Olympics and at what is now known as the Billie Jean King Cup, took the doping test after a first-round loss at the Hungarian Grand Prix last July.
She went on to appear in three other tournaments — including winning the title at an event in Charleston, South Carolina, offering $115,000 in total prize money — before being provisionally suspended in August.
An independent tribunal rendered its decision on the suspension Thursday, following a hearing via video conference on Feb. 17. The written ruling says Jacobs told the panel that supplement contamination “can not be completely eliminated” as a possible cause of his client’s positive test, but the tribunal determined that Lepchenko failed to prove that her use of the banned substance was unintentional.
According to the ruling, Lepchenko’s reply to the International Tennis Federation’s opening brief said: “Ms. Lepchenko understands that she is responsible for everything that she puts in her body and does not dispute that modafinil acid was found in her urine sample. The sole issue for this Tribunal, therefore, is whether Ms. Lepchenko can establish that she did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, such that the sanction in this case should be two years instead of four years.”
The tribune’s four-year punishment was backdated to August 19, 2021, the start of Lepchenko’s provisional suspension.
She is eligible to return to competition in August 2025, when she will be 39.
This was Lepchenko’s second doping violation, but the International Tennis Federation said she is being penalized as if it were her first because it was determined she was not at fault in the other case — which involved testing positive in 2016 for meldonium, the heart medication that led to Maria Sharapova’s doping ban.
Lepchenko has earned a little more than $5 million in career prize money and reached her best WTA ranking of No. 19 in 2012. That was the year she made her debut in the fourth round at a Grand Slam tournament by getting that far at the French Open with a victory over 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone.
Lepchenko also advanced to the fourth round at the U.S. Open in 2015.
She is currently ranked 128th; her last match was a second-round loss to two-time Grand Slam runner-up Vera Zvonareva in August at Concord, Massachusetts.
Lepchenko was born in the ex-Soviet nation of Uzbekistan, later moving with her father and sister to Florida. She was granted political asylum, began living in Pennsylvania in 2003, and became a U.S. citizen in 2011.
FILE – Varvara Lepchenko plays a shot against China’s Zhang Shuai during their first round match of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Monday, May 27, 2019. Former Top 20 player Varvara Lepchenko has been given a four-year doping suspension announced Friday, March 4, 2022, by the International Tennis Integrity Agency after she tested positive for a banned stimulant at a tournament in 2021. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)