Sharapova deserves second chance, says Becker

By Claire Bloomfield
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Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates after beating Samantha Stosur of Australia during their women's singles match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris

FILE PHOTO - Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates after beating Samantha Stosur of Australia during their women's singles match at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, May 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier/File Photo

By Claire Bloomfield

MONACO (Reuters) - Boris Becker believes Maria Sharapova has paid her dues and deserves a second chance when she returns to tennis in April at the end of her 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova, a five-times grand slam champion, failed a dope test for the drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open and was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The Russian's ban was then cut by nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last October, meaning the Russian is free to return from April 26.

Becker, a three-times Wimbledon champion, said it was right that Sharapova was allowed to return to the sport and hopes her comeback will not cause problems in the locker room.

"In principal I am all for a second chance," Becker told Reuters at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco.

"She (Sharapova) paid her dues, she was suspended for quite a long time. I don't know about the reaction of the other players, it's up to them.

"Everyone has their own choice. Hopefully the atmosphere (inside the locker room) will be good. We can move on and have good women's champions."

Sharapova, 29, had called the ITF's original ruling "unfairly harsh" because she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances only at the start of 2016 after mounting evidence it boosted blood flow and enhanced performance.

CAS cut Sharapova's suspension but said she "bore some degree of fault" by relying on agent Max Eisenbud to check the banned list for changes and failing to ensure he had done so.

Despite Sharapova's suspension, Becker feels tennis is a clean sport and that the testing system works.

"I think most tennis players are responsible. If you see in the men's side there is no one inside the top 100 (that isn't clean) and in the women's side -- I think Maria is the exception -- all of the other tennis players are clean," he said.

"Tennis is an Olympic sport so the tests are very severe and strong and the penalties are strong. I think the system works. Maybe it speaks volumes of the system because a high-profile player like Sharapova was caught."

German Becker coached current world number two Novak Djokovic for three years until the pair split in December.

(Writing by Toby Davis; Editing by Andrew Both)