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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: May 13, 2009

5/13/2009 12:00:00 AM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

May 13, 2009

As you read this, Richard Gasquet is mounting a defense against charges that he used cocaine in Miami, where he tested positive for the drug in March. And he has all the time in the world to mount it, having been banned from playing for at least 60 days while the ITF figures out when it can put a panel together to hear his case. If he's unsuccessful, he could be weaving baskets for the next two years.

I am no fan of Gasquet. He's a sour-faced underachiever who, even at his best, never thrilled me on court or off. Still, I'm so on this guy's side it's not even funny. Nothing about this situation is funny. And you can thank the ITF's mafia-like testing policies for that.

Before we go any further, just the news that he tested positive already smells foul. And I'm not just talking about the fact that his levels were so high he would've had to be snorting it on the way to the tournament bathroom with the little plastic cup in his hand. Around, oh I don't know, say March, all you were reading in the tennis press is what a burden the ITF's drug-testing procedures were on the players. Players have to essentially strap a LoJack to their ankles, providing the ITF with their location 24/7. If they're not where they say they are, mom and dad will bring the hammer down. Serena Williams called it "invasive." Rafael Nadal went one step further, saying the system makes him feel "like a criminal." Sam Querrey was tested 25 times the last two years. Andy Murray, 25 times just this last season. And yet, with all of this swirling in the news, this is when Richard thought he could do all the blow in Dade County and not get caught?

I thought the same thing when Martina Hingis tested positive for the white stuff. And she's one of the brainiest players the sport's seen. How would they just not know?

Gasquet had his hair tested independently. Besides having a wider measure of detection, hair analysis differs from urinalysis in that you can't tamper with the test. No traces of the drug were found in the last 90 days, which the March testing date would fall in.

Richard Gasquet has an uphill climb.

But okay. Just like the ITF wasn't there, I wasn't there. Say science took a vacation and he did take a giant straw and make like a Dirt Devil at some after hours party. So what? This isn't a commentary on drug use (although the fact that I wrote a paper in college about decriminalizing victimless crimes should give you an indication on where I stand on that one), it's a commentary on what that drug does for you on the court. And in the case of cocaine, it wouldn't be that much. Have you ever tried playing tennis after drinking a pot of black coffee? It may work for Jelena Jankovic, but for everyone else it's 200 mph groundstrokes into the back fence. And a total lack of patience in a sport that’s as much mental as it is physical. Bluntly, there's nothing performance enhancing about it. If you don't believe me, I have two words for you: Laura Granville. No, she's not the lastest ITF target, that's who Martina Hingis lost to at Wimbledon when she was supposedly painting lines of a different variety.

Besides all that, the highs and lows of the drug require usage about every 15 minutes to avoid crashing, so Richard would have to be doing bumps (I'm down with the lingo, I saw 'Studio 54') every other changeover.

Is one positive test of a non-performance enhancing drug, even if it's a true result, worth derailing a man's career for 2 years?

Don't get me wrong, I'm actually all for comprehensive doping tests. I'm the least forgiving when it comes to cheating of any kind. I don't want an asterisk next to your name in the record books, I want your name stricken completely. And I'm proud of the general cleanliness of the sport (that we know of). But the punishment should fit the crime. Dodger, Manny Ramirez was found guilty of juicing and is out 50 games. That other A-Rod has a book out alleging all kinds of steroid use and he continues to be one of the highest paid athletes in all of sports. These are men who were actively cheating. Again, I'm proud of tennis for it's track record but the punishment should fit the crime.

So what are we left with? Well, while players have to keep their LoJack tuned, the ITF gets to take its sweet time assembling an anti-doping tribunal. Says ITF spokesman Neil Robinson, "The ideal time frame is within 60 days, but people have to fly in from all over the world for it.” What an inconvenience. In the meantime, Gasquet might have more to do than mount defenses and weave baskets. He's got a PR nightmare of Hingis-ian proportions on his hands. It only took 24 hours of this whole thing going public to morph from "let's reserve judgment" to "let's dissect the character of this fallen man and figure out where he went wrong." His past failure to play Davis Cup against the US must for sure be from his wild partying. It's why he falters on the big occasions you know. So much talent squandered by such a nasty addiction.

While I may not be one of them, I would still encourage Gasquet's fans to hang with the guy, to truly wait and see. Because there's a lot that needs to be sorted out here. And he's going to do what Hingis wouldn't - fight. If anything, I hope it drags on and drags into light all the flaws of a system that not only makes players feel like criminals, it punishes them as such, leaving them without any real recourse. Perhaps, for once, it'll be the ITF that has to defend its life.