NEW YORK, March 9: Serena Williams may soon become the richest endorser in women�s tennis, if only by default.
Williams frequently comes in second to Sharapova on lists of the highest-paid female athletes. But Sharapova now faces a suspension and loss of sponsorship from several companies after she announced on Monday that she had tested positive for Meldonium, a banned substance.
Williams would not second-guess Nike, her own longtime endorser, for re-examining its relationship with Sharapova.
�They�re successful. They make their own decisions,� Williams said on Tuesday before an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden against Caroline Wozniacki. �They obviously know how to make decisions.�
Williams and Sharapova have been two of Nike�s most visible spokeswomen in recent years. Last year, Sharapova reportedly earned $23 million in endorsements, while Williams�s total was around $13 million. Sharapova has won five major titles compared to Williams�s 21. Nike, along with TAG Heuer and Porsche, quickly suspended ties with Sharapova after her news conference on Monday.
Williams expressed surprise at Sharapova�s announcement.
�Like everyone else, most people were surprised and shocked,� she said. �But most people are happy with the fact that she was upfront with what she had done in terms of what she had neglected. With that being said, she�s taking responsibility, which she was ready to do.�
While sympathetic toward Sharapova, Williams did not ask tennis officials to extend any special treatment for her. She also did not think Sharapova, a Russian, would face unfairly harsh treatment as a female player. Sharapova is, by far, the most prominent female tennis player to test positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
�In sport and in life, there�s always a double standard,� Williams said. �Everyone knows that, whether it�s a race thing or sex thing. However, this is a different thing. As Maria said, she�s ready to take responsibility. And that takes courage and heart.�
Sharapova, who will be provisionally suspended from all tennis tournaments beginning on Saturday, could face anything from a slap on the wrist to a long ban. Sharapova said that she had failed to check the updated banned substances list for 2016, which included Meldonium for the first time. Sharapova said she had taken the drug for health reasons since 2006.
According to Wozniacki, it is unusual for a player not to be up-to-date on the banned list.
�Anytime we take any medication, we double- and triple-check,� Wozniacki said. �Sometimes even a thing like cough drops and nasal spray can be on the list. So as athletes we make sure not to take something that would put us in a bad situation.�
Based on Sharapova�s admission, Williams played against her quite often while Sharapova was using the drug. Williams has defeated Sharapova 18 times in a row and would not say on Tuesday that she faced a disadvantage in any of those matches.
�I don�t think I�m the best person to ask that question,� Williams said.
It was a day of celebration and reflection among tennis insiders, still trying to digest Sharapova�s announcement. The International Tennis Hall of Fame announced that Justine Henin, a Belgian, and Marat Safin, Russian, would be inducted in July, becoming the first players from their nations to attain that status. Henin faced Sharapova 10 times from 2005 to 2010, defeating her in seven of those matches.
�It�s not nice what happened,� Henin said. �Not good for the game and not good for Maria at the moment. We�re not in position to judge,� Henin said � Agencies