Citi Open Players Respond to Doping Allegations

Update: Since I posted this in August, there have been a number of developments, including the release of a decision in the Čilić case and statements from both the Troicki camp and the ITF.  Troicki will have his appeal heard at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne next week, while the ITF is apparently considering changes to its anti-doping protocols—in response to issues “highlighted” by the Serb’s case.

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Late last week, the tennis world was hit with two surprising and confusing stories concerning players accused of violating the International Tennis Federation’s anti-doping rules.  First came the news that Serbia’s Viktor Troicki had been suspended for eighteen months after failing to provide a blood sample “without compelling justification” in Monte Carlo this spring.  Following his second-round loss to Tommy Robredo in Umag on Thursday, a “destroyed and exhausted” Troicki shared his version of events.  By the time the ITF released a 25-page report on the decision the next morning, it was clear the circumstances of the violation were even more complicated than the initial news brief suggested.  The same day, Croatian media reported that their top player, Marin Čilić, had tested positive for a banned substance in Munich and was already serving a suspension.

  • Tennis Is Served’s Zafar offers a close reading of key aspects of the ITF report and raises important questions about their anti-doping procedures.

Those of us at the Citi Open this week have been eager to hear players’ responses to the news.  While players have ranged in terms of familiarity with the details of the two cases or how directly they were willing to address them, almost all of those asked had opinions on the larger topic of the sports’ anti-doping efforts.

The first players asked about it this week were those with close ties to Troicki.  In a Monday conversation, Nenad Zimonjić said he thought his Davis Cup teammate’s “very unusual” case “came down to a big misunderstanding” between Troicki and the Doping Control Officer and called the 18-month suspension an “extremely strict and heavy” penalty.  (My full interview with Zimonjić, in which he noted that last week’s news has been quite difficult for the whole Serbian team, was published by B92; the English translation is here.)

Unsurprisingly, Andrea Petković was also outspoken in press.

Romi Cvitković: Have you been in touch with Viktor or Marin since the doping allegations came out?

AP: I just know the Viktor story. . . and I really don’t think it’s right. Because I know it from Viktor and I know how he is and I know that he falls–how do you say…? He faints every time when they take blood. So, he was just playing a match and he wasn’t feeling well; he gave the blood sample the next day and he gave his urine—both were negative. To me, [the sanction is] ridiculous.

RC: Do you think something needs to be done with the system, that it’s not quite working well, or what?

AP: Yeah, well. . . I think it’s good that the rules are strict because obviously we all want to fight doping. I think tennis was always a clean sport, so far, and there were just very rare cases of doping. That was always really nice about it. And I’m also one that says doping doesn’t really help you in tennis, because you can be the fittest guy in the world and you can lift 200 kilos in weightlifting, but that doesn’t make you a better tennis player. It doesn’t give you the overlook of the court, it doesn’t give you the feeling, it doesn’t give you the placement. So, for me, I’m the best example: I’m not the fastest player—when I run against most of the girls, I would lose in sprinting. But I see the ball quite early and then it seems as if I’m very fast on court, but I’m really not.

I think it’s good that the rules are strict. But in cases like Viktor’s, you have to be able to look past the rules and you have to be able to make decisions that are maybe. . . personally indicated on [the individual]. And as I know Viktor, and everybody who knows him very well (we’re close friends—I’ve known him since we were ten, I think), I know that every time he gets injections he was fainting and shivering before he had to have them. So, that’s a kind of thing that’s not fair.

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Australia’s Bernard Tomić was a bit less specific.

Ana Mitrić: There have been a couple of news stories in the last week with players having possible anti-doping violations. Is that the kind of thing that you hear about online or in the locker-room—is it on your radar, or are you mostly focused on your own game?

BT: Yeah, I did see that. I did see that. It’s very interesting—and very weird as well. It’s strange, but, you know, it’s obviously their issue. Um, I mean, I can’t say a lot about it, since it’s not my issue; but, you know, it’s pretty strange how it can happen. Being a player myself, you come to realize that things are out there… Like I said, it’s not my issue, but it’s sometimes really weird and strange to see stuff happen like that.

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After Steve Tignor’s piece about how the Čilić case may illuminate questionable ITF procedures and Simon Cambers’ interview with Bob Brett were published on Tuesday, we could get into further detail.

Romi Cvitković: Have you been tracking any of the recent doping allegations that have been going on with Troicki…? Is there anything in the system that you feel like needs to be worked on or are they handling it the right way? Are the players talking about it at all?

Grigor Dimitrov: I’m in the loop, of course, of what’s happening. I hear here and there. For now, I haven’t had any problem with any of these things. I think as far away as you stay from the conflicts and everything is better for you. Because, at the end of the day, we are here to focus on one thing—and that’s tennis, of course. So, I think it’s kind of unfortunate what happened. But I don’t think there’s any problem with the system; or, if there might be, then people need to talk about it and that’s how you solve things.

AM: Bob Brett, Marin Čilić’s ex-coach, was interviewed for a piece in the Guardian today and he said that he felt players did not get enough education about some of these things—the policies, the rules, the procedures. I happen to know that the ITF’s document is 273 pages long, so I’m assuming you haven’t read that. But, do you have a specific memory of getting information about these policies?

GD: Yeah, I remember… [Asks ATP PR and Marketing Manager Fabrizio Sestini when he completed the ATP orientation; they guess about two years ago.] A lot of players were doing this ATP University, and there, everything is kind of compact and just the most important things. I think there is where you need to pay a lot of attention and focus on what’s been happening in the ATP throughout all the years. And they give you the exact, specific [information]—whether it’s doping or betting—a bunch of things that are really important are all listed there.

We actually have a 24-hour phone that you can call for doping. Anytime, you can call and say, “Hey, listen, I have a problem with this—do you think that’s fine if I take it?” and they give you all the banned substances and all that. So, I think there is one of the times that everyone has to pay attention and be aware of what’s been happening. I think the most information that I got was back then. Now, of course, every day there’s something—not every day, but something is coming up; so, we try to keep [informed about] all that. I understand how everyone wants to just open this thing and look at it. Of course, sometimes you fall into these errors—and that’s no fun.

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AM: There’s been a fair bit of talk on the media side this week about doping, anti-doping violations, and so on. I’m curious how aware of that you are, if there’s been much talk in the locker-room, and also whether you feel that you have good access to information about those issues?

John Isner: Yeah, I’m aware of, I guess, two incidents currently going on and I’ve read about it; but that’s all I know. As far as talk in the locker-room, there actually hasn’t been much at all. With the Americans, it’s more just talk about fantasy baseball—and, believe it or not, how I’m in ninth place. It is what it is, I think. Those situations are unfortunate and I don’t know what to think of it.

But. . . as far as hearing that the ATP or WADA don’t educate us enough, I don’t think that’s the case. For me, in particular, any time I take something, I do check it out. I don’t try to buy many supplements outside of that. So, I think the ATP actually does a good job with informing us about what we can and cannot take. I don’t know if these players intentionally did it or not; but I would side on their side, actually. But they’re two cases that are unfortunate, so we’ll see how they play out.

Lindsay Gibbs: In that same vein, there’s been a lot of talk about doping and making tennis a cleaner sport, even though there hasn’t been a big scandal—hopefully, preventing that. Do you have any thoughts on blood tests and moving toward the biological passport?

JI: I’m a huge fan of the biological passport. I just know from the Lance Armstrong case that he sort of got into trouble because of that. So, I think that if the testing can improve, and you still have those samples, absolutely go back and test that out.

But I really do think tennis, compared to other sports and other team sports, I feel like we get tested quite a bit. We get tested a lot during competition. I know I, in particular, get tested a lot out of competition and that’s not just urine—that’s blood as well. One time, I even got tested twice in one morning, within thirty minutes of each other. So, I think tennis does a good job with their testing—just from my personal experience, I’ve been tested a lot. As a whole, I really do feel that our sport is clean. These two situations are kind of a coincidence, in my opinion. As long as the tests keep improving, I would hope that they would keep implementing that. Especially the biological passport—I think that’d be great.

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Lindsay Gibbs: Obviously, doping’s been in the news a lot lately, with the Troicki and Čilić cases. Do you have any thoughts on that and on the direction tennis is going?

Mardy Fish: Our doping system is extremely tough, I know that. I know that I have to give an hour every single day of my life to doping. So, yeah, it’s been in the news, we’ve heard some stories. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Viktor’s thing or Čilić’s thing. I don’t know—I haven’t really looked at it. But, it’s not something I have to concern myself with; I don’t need to worry about it.

AM: Related to that, you’re obviously a veteran; so, it’s probably been a while since you did your ATP University orientation. Do you remember much about that program, particularly information that you got about things like anti-doping rules & policies? Is that the kind of thing where you get an update every now and then?

MF: I don’t remember much—ATP University was a long, long time ago. It could have been fifteen years ago now. But, we do get updates, yes. We get notifications. . . There’s things constantly coming through your e-mail: updates on player regulations, whether it’s the size of your logo for who’s sponsoring your shirt or anti-doping things [Sestini chimes in with “prohibited lists”]. We have updated versions at all times.

AM: So, if you heard, for instance, Bob Brett saying that he doesn’t think players are sufficiently educated on some of these things and that maybe there needs to be more done on that side, would that not quite jell with your experience?

MF: It wouldn’t be my experience, no. I mean, I would like to take that pretty seriously. Again, I don’t have to worry about anything. But, in Čilić’s case, he took something that maybe. . . You know, sometimes you get can really sick and it takes some sort of medication to make you feel better, and you feel extremely ill and there’s only one thing that makes you feel better, but you can’t take it, and sometimes guys take a chance, I’m sure. I don’t know—I’ve never been in that situation before, but there’s a lot of things we can’t take that we don’t really understand, but that might mask something or whatever.

But in my experience, no. In my experience, my trainer and I take it very seriously and I ask him about every single thing that goes into some sort of pill form or cream form that we’re using and make sure that something like that would never, ever happen.

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On Wednesday, Cambers followed up with further excerpts from his conversation with Bob Brett, after which I posed related questions to a few more players.

AM: Assuming you’ve heard the news coming out of late last week about Viktor Troicki and Marin Čilić regarding possible violations of anti-doping rules, any comment on things that are going on with rules, procedures, & enforcement?

Miloš Raonić: I don’t know their situations specifically—I don’t know exactly what’s gone on with them.  But, I think as far as it goes between how we’re being tested and how often we’re being tested, sometimes, obviously, it can be frustrating.  You just lose a match and they’re asking you for time right away—so, it can be frustrating, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.

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AM: You’ve been around for a while.  Have you noticed a change or any shifts in terms of how the tennis community is talking about or dealing with doping issues and anti-doping prevention, testing, that kind of thing, in recent years?

Tommy Haas: Well, it’s always such a tough thing to talk about, really.  You know, you want to make sure everything is clean, you want to make sure this is a clean sport, and you want to be tested as much as possible—which I’m all for.  Urine, blood, whatever it is: do whatever you need to do in order to find out if I’m taking something or not; I’ve got no problem with that.  Our sport has been very clean over many, many years, in some ways.  I think it’s sort of something to look for in sports, in general—if you look at other sports, how many things are going on there.  So, it’s a tough subject to deal with and, obviously, recently we’ve heard of a couple of players; who knows what’s going on there.  I don’t know if they’re going to go to court, if lawyers are involved—who knows?  We’ve had a few issues in the past, so we’ll see what happens.

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AM: There’s been a lot of talk about doping across different sports, with cycling, baseball, and running.  But recently, in tennis, there’s been more talk about that, with the shift to the blood passport and then last week’s news about Troicki and Čilić.  Have you been hearing much talk about that and are those policies and procedures things that you talk with your trainer about to make sure you know everything that’s going on?

Juan Martin del Potro: Yeah, well, the anti-doping are very hard with us—they’re very strict in the tests and we know everything.  But, in those two cases it’s difficult to say something.  I mean, I think Troicki’s going to appeal in the next weeks and Marin Čilić is not official yet, so we have to wait.  Of course, we talk about that in the locker-rooms, but nobody wants to say anything before the official information.

AM: Do you think it’s a sign that the ITF is trying to take things even more seriously?

JMDP: I don’t know.  We have tests during all the year, within competition—and off-court, also—and all the players know that.  It’s for all the players the same rule.  But we have to wait in these two cases [to see] what’s going to happen and then we will have more information to explain.

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AM: Obviously, we all know you were kidding about the vials earlier [asked about Tommy Haas’s longevity and the increased number of players traveling with trainers or physiotherapists, Tursunov joked that he sees the German “carrying vials all the time”], but the topic of doping and anti-doping initiatives has been in the news a lot, especially last week, with Marin Čilić and Viktor Troicki.  So, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on ITF efforts—specifically, whether they seem to be stepping up and trying to take those things more seriously and also whether you feel you get good information about the issues (for example, updated lists) and if that’s something you and your trainer talk about as well.

Dmitry Tursunov: Well, the thing with the list is that. . . we’re aware of the list—I mean, we have all the information.  The problem is that we don’t have a portable chemical lab; we can’t take a Gatorade and see what’s contained in that.  And quite a few factories process a lot of the things that are allowed and some of the things that are not allowed; so, if that somehow gets mixed in, it’s still our responsibility.  Essentially, we would have to test everything we put into our bodies to make sure that we don’t test positive.  So, it’s our responsibility in the end.  Sometimes it happens, like in the case with Marin Čilić: from what I understood, they found that  whatever he took contained [something that] was prohibited; but, in the end, he still gets fined. . .  I mean, I understand that ITF would have to take some sort of measures, because it would be very hard to explain why they can’t take the measures, but I think it’s a tough call.  ITF has to do something about it; but, at the same time, in these cases, if a player took something by accident, he didn’t mean to take it, he wasn’t trying to take that, yet he’s still sidelined.

So, the best suggestion that we can get is, “Don’t take anything that you’re not sure about.”  But, to be honest, how sure are you that Gatorade doesn’t have anything?  And then, we go anywhere and try to get something to eat—if that has something that’s prohibited, it’s our fault.  So, it’s a tough balance of taking something just so you can survive—at least, taking a Flintstones [vitamin], but even Flintstones could potentially contain something prohibited.  It’s a tough topic.  I mean, we can’t eat organic all the time; you can’t go to Whole Foods in Umag, Croatia, so you have to just try to be smart about it.  But, at the same time, we cannot compete at this level, playing for three hours in this weather, and not take any supplements.  We cannot eat enough food or drink enough Gatorade to replenish what we’re losing.  So, we have to take something extra—and not necessarily something prohibited; a lot of times, people who test positive are not trying to do it.  If someone is doing it on purpose, then that’s another story.

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