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Sports

Maria Sharapova doping ban reduced to 15 months after appeal

The former world number one has had her doping ban reduced. The Russian tested positive for the banned drug meldonium during January's Australian Open, but has always denied that she took it to boost performance.

Maria Sharapova says she is "counting the days" until she can return to tennis after her doping ban was reduced by nine months to 15 by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), meaning the Russian will be free to compete again from April 26, 2017.

Sharapova was banned for 24 months in January 2016, but her appeal has been partially successful, meaning she will only miss one more Grand Slam tournament, next year's Australian Open, and will be able to return to the court in time for the French Open next May.

An arbitration panel "found that Ms Sharapova committed an anti-doping rule violation and that while it was with 'no significant fault', she bore some degree of fault, for which a sanction of fifteen months is appropriate," Switzerland-based CAS said in a statement.

Five-times grand slam winner Sharapova was banned by the International Tennis Federation in June following a positive test for the banned drug meldonium during January's Australian Open.

"I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April (2017)," Sharapova said on her Facebook page on Tuesday.

"In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

Sharapova has always maintained that she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) had barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, as of January 1. She has also previously claimed that she has taken the drug since 2006 for a heart condition.

Her lawyer, John Haggerty, said Sharapova took the substance after that date.

In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on February 2.

Meldonium increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity by carrying more oxygen to the muscles.

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