NEWS

Racquet Company Stands by Maria Sharapova, Extends Contract Amid Doping Scandal

by Rande Iaboni 7:20 AM PST, March 10, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

While brands like Nike and TAG Heuer have suspended endorsements with Maria Sharapova after she revealed she failed a drug test, racquet manufacturer, HEAD, has announced plans to extend its contract with the tennis star.

"Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the benefit of the doubt," HEAD CEO Johan Eliasch said in a statement to ET Thursday.

Sharapova announced on Monday that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open, testing positive for banned substance meldonium. The 2014 French Open champ and 2012 Olympic silver medalist claimed at her press conference that she had simply made a mistake by continuing to take the anti-ischemic drug Mildronate -- also known as meldonium -- after it was added to the list of banned performance-enhancing drugs in January.

NEWS: Maria Sharapova Announces She Failed Drug Test in January: 'I Let My Fans Down'

Following this admission, Sharapova's endorsement deal with Nike was suspended. The company telling ET in a statement, "We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova. We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation."

In a statement to ET, Porsche has "chosen to postpone planned activities" with the tennis star, adding, "we have not suspended the contract with Maria, we just don't use her for any activities until we have more information."

Additionally, Swiss watch company TAG Heuer said it has suspended negotiation talks to renew its marketing contract with Sharapova, which expired at the end of 2015.

NEWS: Nike Suspends Ties With Maria Sharapova Following Failed Drug Test

Eliasch also took the time to defend Sharapova, adding, "In the absence of any evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage through the use of mildronate, we further conclude this falls into the category of 'honest' mistakes."

Sharapova has been under an exclusive contract with HEAD for racquets, strings and grips since January 2011.

Eliasch went on to say that for more than a decade Sharapova "has been a role model and woman of integrity who has inspired millions of fans around the world to play and watch tennis. The honesty and courage she displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable. HEAD is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract."

"We look forward to many more years of working with Maria," the statement concluded.

NEWS: Serena Williams Praises Maria Sharapova's 'Courage' Amid Doping Scandal

Sharapova took the time on Wednesday to thank her fans on Facebook for all of their support during this scandal.

"I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion," the 28-year-old Russian tennis star wrote. "On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will."

Sharapova was notified of her failed drug test on March 2 and is waiting to hear what the penalty to her career will be. According to Forbes, she earned $29.5 million in 2015.

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