All sports are faced with the issue of athletes doping. The sports world has seen some of the most respected athletes stripped of their titles and penalized for using drugs. Baseball`s Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) was caught for using Primobolan, football star Shawne Merriman was penalized for steroid use and cyclist Lance Armstrong was busted for taking a cocktail of performance-enhancing drugs resulting in him being forced to return his medals and prize money.
In tennis, there have also been quite a few cases of players performing in matches while under the influence such as Andre Agassi who admitted to using crystal meth while Richard Gasquet and Martina Hingis struggled with cocaine.
Drugs, whether performance-enhancing or recreational, are nothing new in the sports world and despite the prim and proper connotation of tennis, drugs have played a huge factor in many matches.
Spain`s Rafael Nadal has denied rumors of steroid use for some time now but French former tennis star, Yannick Noah, has made statements that suggest otherwise. It first began when Noah said in an interview, “How can a country (Spain) dominate sport from one day to the next?” he asked. “Had they discovered avant-garde training techniques and methods that no one else imagined?”
And although Noah now insists that he has nothing against Spain, he is still speaking out against steroid use. “Look what happened in cycling with Lance Armstrong. It took 10 years to find something that everyone already knew long ago. This is very sad.”
Noah has now proposed a new idea where tennis players should be tested 60 times per year. While Roger Federer and Andy Murray also feel that there should be more drug testing in tennis, not everyone agrees. While Toni Nadal, Rafael`s uncle, will go along with whatever screening regime tennis officials put into place, he feels it might be unnecessary saying, “I am serene and, knowing that Rafa is totally clean, I don’t believe it’s possible that others dope.”
According to the USTA`s website, tennis players are subjected to the most performance-enhancing drug screens than in any other sport and these tests are completely random and can happen at any place and time, some tennis players are even tested up to a dozen times per year.
60 times per year might be excessive but what other options are there other than increasing the number of drug screenings?
A possible option would be to have random mandatory tennis bag searches at tournaments to check for any drugs, paraphernalia, or drug residue. If that actually did happen and Rafael Nadal is actually guilty of all the doping accusations he has been denying for so long, he should be careful about toting his Babolat tennis bag onto the courts.
More drug testing to ensure the sport is clean might sound good to players like Federer, Murray, and Noah but to others that don`t feel as though there is a problem, the excessive drug tests and random bag checks might make some feel uncomfortable.
So what is the next move when it comes to drug screening in tennis? Should the USTA go with Noah`s suggestion of 60 tests per year and include random bag checks for all players or should the USTA keep it the way it is? The real question that should be answered first is, is there really a performance-enhancing drug problem in tennis?