When Maria Sharapova won her first round U.S. Open match against the world’s No. 2 ranked female player, Simona Halep, she dropped her tennis racket and sunk to her knees in disbelief. Commentators Chris Evert and Mary Joe Fernández remarked that the match, which clocked in at two hours and 44 minutes, looked like it could have been the women’s final. When ESPN asked what Sharapova had learned from the match, she told them, “That behind this black dress with Swarovski crystals, this girl has a lot of grit and she’s not going anywhere.”
It was Sharapova’s first Grand Slam match in 19 months, the majority of which was spent serving a 15-month ban for violating anti-doping rules. The drug Sharapova tested positive for was meldonium, a heart drug that can assist in improving endurance and recovery. Caitlin Thompson was curious whether taking the drug could improve her tennis game while she competed in recreational tournaments, and she reported about the experience for Deadspin:
In the first few days of doping, I didn’t notice much of a fitness boost—I was maybe a little less winded than usual doing cross-court/down-the line drills, but nothing I’d describe as revelatory. But as I kept playing, I started noticing a more important effect: I wasn’t sore or stiff, at all.
Usually playing two days in a row is enough to make me hobble around for a day before scheduling an appointment with my applied kinesiologist and a visit to my Tui Na lady. A year ago, an MRI showed that playing too much tennis (and all the other stuff I do like carrying strollers and running occasional half-marathons, poorly) added up to cause three slipped discs in my back. Ever since, soreness and stiffness have haunted me. But not with meldonium.