Hingis discusses positive cocaine test as two-year ITF ban lapses
Martina Hingis' two-year ban for a positive cocaine test ends Wednesday
The former world No. 1 maintains that she has never used cocaine
Now 29, Hingis says she is not ready to commit to a playing comeback
Wednesday marks Martina Hingis' 29th birthday. It also marks the final day of her two-year drug suspension from the International Tennis Federation.
While we've been conditioned to raise a skeptical eye when athletes profess innocence and ignorance after a positive drug test result, the ITF stance was troubling from the onset.
To review: The ITF claims that 42 nanograms per milliliter of a cocaine metabolite was found in Hingis' system, as per a drug test administered after her third-round defeat at Wimbledon in 2007. This is an amount so trace that it would not trigger a positive result had the test been administered by the U.S. military. In the wake of the positive result, Hingis voluntarily took a hair-follicle test -- which, unlike a lie-detector test, is cited by drug experts as meaningful and reliable. It indicated no traces of cocaine in her system in the 90 days following Wimbledon.
The amount was so trace that, in marked contrast to Richard Gasquet -- who was cleared to return after completing a 2½-month ban in July when an anti-doping panel ruled that he accidentally ingested cocaine by kissing a woman at a nightclub -- Hingis was at a loss even to fashion a plausible theory about how she could have tested positive. (In the past few months the British media have reported about trace levels of cocaine turning up everywhere from the Thames River to restroom sinks.) Though circumstantial evidence is just that -- circumstantial -- it defies logic that a veteran player who had passed upwards of 100 tests, some of them unannounced and out of competition, would dabble with cocaine in conjunction with a Grand Slam, knowing with virtual certainty that she would be tested.
Under the "strict-liability standard" -- which means the athlete is responsible regardless of culpability or circumstance -- Hingis was stuck, guilty until proven innocent. As a first-time offender, she faced a mandatory two-year suspension.
Though never directly attributed to the peculiarities of her case, curiously, in the months after her hearing, rules were altered and administrators were given latitude to dispense suspensions of any length from zero to two years.
With Hingis back from her foray into reality television, we caught up with her by phone at her stable in Switzerland.
SI.com: From an emotional standpoint, how do feel you've handled the past two years?
Martina Hingis: OK. There were hard times and it was frustrating knowing I did nothing wrong but couldn't really fight this. It was my reputation and I knew the truth. But the process didn't really let me fight.
SI.com: Given your outspoken personality, I think it surprised a lot of people that maybe you weren't as forceful, deciding, for instance, not to appeal. Do you regret that?
Hingis: Like you say, I always spoke [honestly] even if I wasn't always politically correct. I spoke the truth even when the truth may have hurt me. But the system was set up in such a way that there was nothing I could do.
SI.com: Bottom line: have you ever ...
Hingis: No. Taken cocaine? Never. No [recreational] drugs. I don't know even the effects. I've maybe been in a position where I could have. But never, no. If I had ever taken cocaine, I would have said so.
SI.com: Before this happened, did you ever worry about a situation like this?
Hingis: No, because I probably had between 80-100 tests and no problems. The only thing I would ever take was aspirin and I was very particular about these things. Even if I had a flu I'd call my doctor and say, "What can I take?" I was always very cautious. I never took anything that was not approved first.
SI.com: Were any players notably supportive?
Hingis: Billie Jean King wrote a letter on my behalf. But, you know, I wasn't allowed at the Grand Slams, even to enter the stadium during tournaments. So I had little contact with the other players.
SI.com: Richard Gasquet?
SI.com: Lots of comebacks going on. You're 10 years younger than Kimiko Date ...
Hingis: I'll leave it Justine [Henin]! It's not so easy. You need to commit. You can't just do it when you want to. I know the women's game isn't at the highest point it's ever been. OK, look at Kim [Clijsters]. But she has the family support, the husband, she's physically strong. She played three tournaments and she's right back and I don't think anyone can hurt her on the court.
SI.com: What is your relationship with tennis?
Hingis: I love tennis, still a big part of my life. I didn't play much in the beginning of the suspension, but then I played more. Now when I play, a lot of the time it's with juniors. I've been able to [distinguish] between the sport and the administrators.