Doping in sport has been firmly in the spotlight throughout 2013 ever since Lance Armstrong finally admitted that he had indeed cheated his way to seven Tour de France titles, prompting a spate of introspective soul-searching across the sporting world and calls from the likes of Andy Murray and Roger Federer for tennis to have a more systematic blood-testing programme.
But such is the paranoia in sport (currently heightened after five leading Jamaican athletes recently tested positive) surrounding doping that regulations can too easily surpass common sense and Troicki’s story is a case in point.
Troicki was selected for a blood test after his first round defeat to Jarkko Nieminen at the Monte Carlo Masters earlier this year, a routine procedure but having been distinctly off-key during the match (he lost 6-1, 6-2) and with a fear of needles to compound matters, he asked whether he could postpone the test to a later date.
“I was selected for urine and blood tests after the match and went to the doping control station after showering and stretching,” he says. “I gave the urine samples and told the doctor I was feeling really bad and I believed that drawing blood would make me feel even worse. I always feel awful when I need to draw blood and that day I was scared I would end up in hospital. The doctor in charge of the testing told me that I looked very pale and ill, and that I could skip the test if I wrote an explanation letter to ITF about it. She dictated the letter to me and let me go without giving blood. She was very helpful and understanding.”
Troicki took the requested blood test the very next day and returned a negative test but to his horror he discovered earlier this month that he was being charged by the ITF with breaking doping violations for not taking the test directly after his match with Nieminen.
The ITF claim that the doctor in question told Troicki that she was not completely sure if his reasons for postponing the test would be deemed excusable but frankly, this seems beside the point given that if Troicki had been trying to hide anything (which is surely the point of testing) he would not have made himself available the next day.
An ITF committee accepted that Troicki had mitigating factors and so did not hand him the full two year suspension but he has still been banned for 18 months which seems a gross injustice. Aside from the direct effect on his career (he would be 29 by the time the suspension expired and as he would lose all his ranking points during that period, it would take considerable time for him to work his way back to the top of the game), his reputation has been tarred with cheating despite the fact that he has never tested positive or even accidentally missed a test.
“This a real nightmare,” Troicki continued. “I was 100% sure everything was ok, just like my coach Jack Reader who was in the doping control station room with me during at least half of the procedure.“
“I feel like I am being treated like a criminal and I have not done anything wrong at all. I always have troubles drawing blood but I always did. I am clean and will always be clean throughout my career. I just had the wrong doctor who didn’t tell me that I was risking anything at all. She showed me a letter of the ITF saying she is in charge of the decisions and I trusted her completely. I wish I had recorded the discussion, there would have never been a case if I had.”
Troicki will now be appealing to the Court of Arbitration in Lausanne in the hope of overturning the ban and returning to competition by the end of the year. But while the rest of the tour turn their focus towards next month’s US Open, he has been left fighting to clear his name. He will take heart from Richard Gasquet’s case a few years ago when the Frenchman tested positive for cocaine before successfully challenging his ban on the basis that he had ingested the substance accidentally by kissing a model a Miami nightclub.
Gasquet’s case was far less clear cut but he still won and that will give Troicki hope. “I am 100% sure that the Court of Arbitration in Lausanne will consider my good faith and my total innocence,” the Serb said. “But right now, this enormous sanction makes me speechless. It feels like the world that I helped to build day by day has let me down. It is the worst feeling you can imagine.”
Troicki has already received numerous messages of support from fellow players including his close friend and Davis Cup team-mate Djokovic. The world number one told Troicki that he’s confident he will be able to clear his name and said he believes that the ATP should back him up.
How to play from the baseline
The expression “to endure the rally” is about those indeterminate moments of a rally where none of the players is leading.
The ability to endure the rally is fundamental when you play a “long rally”, because it offers you the chance to measure your opponent’s strong points and vulnerabilities, besides letting you position as best as possible for your next offensive shot.