Maria Sharapova’s ex-boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov on Wednesday suggested she deserved her ban from tennis for a doping offence, an incident that has sent shockwaves through the sport.
“I think tennis misses her,” the Bulgarian world number 20 said of the five-time Grand Slam champion, adding that he had “zero doubts” she would make a successful return.
“As a competitor she’s just going to come back and she’s going to be so hungry to play and excited and motivated,” said Dimitrov, who dated the Russian superstar for two years until they split in July 2015.
But he added: “If you do something, I mean obviously there are circumstances. And whoever does something deserves what he gets for sure.”
Dimitrov was responding to a question about an interview in which Sharapova accused the International Tennis Federation (ITF) of trying to make an example of her by giving her a 24-month ban for testing positive for meldonium.
The suspension was cut to 15 months on Tuesday after an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), meaning Sharapova can return to action next April.
Dimitrov cited the case of world number 1,857th Joshua Chetty, who was banned from tennis for life in September for match-fixing offences.
“It’s never up to me or ITF and all that,” Dimitrov said, referring to punishments of players.
“I think throughout the years, these kind of things should have started earlier with examples and all of that.”
World number two Andy Murray also said that Sharapova deserved to be suspended, echoing comments he made earlier in the year when the case was first made public.
“Maria competed at the Australian Open whilst using a banned drug, and then deserves a suspension. The time of the suspension, that’s not up to me,” Murray told reporters in Beijing.
The Scot had previously criticised the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for how it handled the ban on meldonium, which has allowed athletes to escape suspensions.
“With everything that’s gone on this year with meldonium, obviously there were going to be some issues with that legally,” he added.
Sharapova has admitted to taking meldonium for 10 years for health reasons, but said she wasn’t aware it had been added to WADA’s list of banned substances in January.
The CAS judgment said Sharapova, one of the most marketable female athletes in any sport, was not an “intentional doper” but that she also “bore some degree of fault”.
Both Murray and Dimitrov are currently in Beijing for the China Open.
Dimitrov booked his place in the second round on Wednesday by beating American Steve Johnson 7-5, 6-7 (7/9) 6-4, while Murray overpowered Andrey Kuznetsov in two sets to reach the quarter finals.