Maria Sharapova will be eligible to return to competitive tennis in April after her two-year doping suspension was reduced to 15 months Tuesday by a sports court that found the Russian superstar bore no “significant fault” for her positive test.

Maria Sharapova’s Doping Ban Is Reduced By Nine Months

The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that Sharapova had no intention to cheat. The 29-year-old tested positive for the banned heart medication meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player, appealed in June seeking to overturn or reduce the two-year suspension imposed by the International Tennis Federation. She publicly disclosed the violation in March, days after she was privately notified of the lab results.

The Russian’s ban took effect Jan. 26 and was originally due to run until Jan. 25, 2018. Now, however, she can return on April 26, 2017, one month before the French Open.


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Tuesday’s ruling could help Sharapova redeem her standing with sponsors that rapidly dropped her when she was disciplined last spring. These sponsors included Nike, Porsche and Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer, who all suspended their relationships with her.

After this, Serena Williams overtook Sharapova as the world’s highest-paid female athlete.

Some companies, including Nike, expressed support for Sharapova, while others like Porsche said they would wait until the court delivered its ruling to decide whether to continue their relationship. A spokeswoman for Porsche said Tuesday that the company planned to discuss “a future collaboration” in coming weeks.

“I’ve gone from one of the toughest days of my career,” Sharapova said in a statement Tuesday, alluding to her initial suspension in March, “to, now, one of the happiest days.”

 Meldonium, which is believed to improve blood flow and accelerate an athlete’s recovery while training, was not banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency until 2016. Sharapova claimed she was unaware that use of the drug in international sports had been restricted.

She had taken the substance since 2006, she said, to treat a number of health problems, including frequent bouts of the flu, the possible onset of diabetes and a magnesium deficiency.

In June, a disciplinary panel appointed by the ITF accepted Sharapova’s claim that the violation had been accidental, a finding that spared her from a suspension of up to four years.

In her appeal, Sharapova argued at a hearing in New York last month that tennis officials had not done enough to publicize the change and that two years was a disproportionately harsh penalty.

“This was an honest administrative mistake,” said John Haggerty, a lawyer for Sharapova. “There was no intent to cheat.”

A panel of three arbitrators– two American and one Italian– accepted that explanation but noted in a 28-page decision that although the offense was inadvertent, it nonetheless constituted a violation of the rules that warranted a 15-month suspension.

The sports court has a history of reducing the disciplinary penalties imposed by tennis officials; Sharapova’s partial win follows similar ones by Marin Cilic of Croatia and Viktor Troicki of Serbia, decisions delivered in 2013.

The recent meldonium ban has resulted in a string of failed drug tests among East European athletes this year, predominantly Russians.

In her statement Tuesday, Sharapova criticized the tennis federation for, she said, not clearly explaining the change in rules, saying she had “learned how much better other federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe.”

She added: “I hope the I.T.F. and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through.”

 Caption:MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 22: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a backhand in her third round match against Lauren Davis of the United States during day five of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 22, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

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