© Ella Ling

Tennis balls

'We're looking for evidence of systematic doping"


Dr Stuart Miller, the head of the International Tennis Federation’s science and technical department, has told The Tennis Space that they have found no evidence of systematic doping. “We haven’t found evidence of that yet, but doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop looking as hard as we can for it,” said Miller, who oversees the drugs-testing programme. “It would be naive to think that there isn’t a risk – we’ve had more than 60 doping violations since 1995.”

Will there be an increase in drugs-testing this summer with the Olympics?
“In addition to the tennis anti-doping programme, the IOC [International Olympic Committee] has it own programme in association with the Olympics, which will add more testing. Overall in tennis this year, more tests will be conducted than in previous years, which the ITF welcomes.”

Are you concerned that there could be a doping problem in tennis?
“We’ve had, since 1995, 62 doping offences, so clearly there’s a risk. It would be naive to think that there isn’t a risk. Which is why we’ve got a wide ranging programme in place. Ideally, you would test every player every day. Clearly, there aren’t enough resources to do that, so you have to find ways to make the programme as efficient and as effective as possible, which is why every one of our tests is ‘no advance notice’ so it’s a surprise to the player when someone turns up to test them.

“We test players in competition and we test them out of competition. We do both blood and urine tests, both in and out of competition. All unannounced. We test for the full range of substances on the WADA prohibited list, we test for human growth hormone, we have a testing programme for EPO. We have a random testing programme, and we have a target testing programme as well.”

How does the targeting programme work?
“It’s based on information that we gather which might identify player or players who you feel might be at greater risk of doping than others. Therefore you would prioritise them for testing at a particular time or place based on that information. You pick up intelligence from lots of places, from a varity of sources – I obviously can’t say much about those sources – but you piece all that information together and plan your testing accordingly.”

It’s been suggested that you believe that taking prohibited substances would not give you as much benefit in tennis as in other sports?
“There’s a context to that. The sports which have the highest prevalence of offences have tended to be those where you are maximising a performance variable such as power, or strength or speed. I’m not saying that doping in tennis doesn’t have any potential benefits – of course it does. just that being a top tennis player takes more than those things, such as hand-eye coordination, technique, tactics, and mental toughness. We’ve seen more than 60 doping violations, which is why we have the programme in place to catch those who are cheating. To be quite clear, I’m not saying that there isn’t a risk of doping or that there aren’t potential benefits of doping.”

Do you think there is systematic drugs abuse in tennis?
“We haven’t found evidence of that yet, but doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop looking as hard as we can for it. Our programme is more wide-ranging than ever before so if that is happening, we’ve got a better chance than ever before of finding it. We’ve got to do our best to weed out any problems that there are and continue to strive to make tennis a doping-free sport.”

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    Interesting interview, but I would have asked Dr. Miller some tougher questions, including:

    How is possible that Serena and Venus Williams have gone for more than two years (2010 and 2011) without an out of competition test? (see ITF stats: http://www.itftennis.com/antidoping/news/statistics.asp )

    How does Dr. Miller explain his comments on EPO from 2009 in Slate:
    “It may be that tennis is not conducive to EPO…Maybe tennis is not a
    sport that is driven by a need to maximize stamina, which is what EPO
    essentially does.”

    Why does the ITF’s anti-doping statistics from 2006-2009 indicate that at Grand Slams that the only time players were tested (with the exception of the tournament champion) was after they lost? (see ITF stats above)

    Why does tennis conduct so few out of competition tests?

    What happened during the Serena Williams panic room incident?

    What is the Anti-Doping agreement between the ITF and the Grand Slam Committee?

    Who is on the ITF’s anti-doping working group?

    How is the ITF’s anti-doping budget set? Does he think more funding is needed?

  • http://twitter.com/kazziefwil Karen Wilson

    doesn’t it appear that more than ever before tennis has been affected by increased power, strength, and stamina.  How is it possible that some players can play a 5 hr match one day and come back the next day and play for 6 seemingly unaffected?  How can a player mysteriously increase serve speed by 10 km for one tourney and then it goes away?  Do these things not at least “raise eyebrows” ??

    • http://twitter.com/TooPawned No Way

       Ask roger, maybe he can answer that question. Since he is probably the biggest ped user ever. It’s not just about strengh that people focus on. Peds help you recover really fast. And somehow magically we are supposed to believe it’s because of his style that never gets injured. gtfo

      • clifford

        And yet Roger seems to be a rather lonely voice among top tennis players advocating for more strict rules for testing. The whiners about the whereabouts rules tend to include…well…everyone who looks as though they might be using Peds!

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Manfred-Smellington/100003131475326 Manfred Smellington

          I don’t think he’s advocated for more strict rules, but rather supported the current system. This doesn’t mean anything anyway because these guys are using designer drugs for which no tests exist, and there are athletes in the past that have advocated strict testing and then been busted themselves later on.

          • clifford

            Didn’t he say something about supporting a system where samples are kept for eight years, though? I could be wrong about that, but something tells me there was such a conversation….any info?

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/Manfred-Smellington/100003131475326 Manfred Smellington

            Yes but I think they already do that, and given the way the testing goes I don’t think that would concern the players too much because they are so rarely actually tested when they aren’t expecting it.

    • PB

      Oh please, stop the misleading with the 6 hours thing for the AO final.  Everyone knows current top two are the slowest players and take a lot of time in between points.  That match was easily an hour and a half longer than it had to be.  The problem is the slow courts and heavy balls which allows baseliners to keep the points so long.  May be there is PED problem in tennis, there is in many other sports, but it’s awfully unfair to point fingers with no proof.  And professional athletes, playing a couple of long matches, for which they train and practice for hours & hours all year long, as a truly shocking piece of evidence…nope, not buying it.

      • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

        Are the courts actually slower? Or is that players are now so fast that their speed has effectively made the courts appear slower?

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Manfred-Smellington/100003131475326 Manfred Smellington

          The courts are actually slower.

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    I’d also note that Dr. MIller somewhat dodges the question about increased testing with the Olympics. His answer indicates that the ITF is not planning any additional testing. Instead, he refers to the additonal tests by the IOC, which will only be carried out during the Olympics. Anyone with knowledge about doping knows that the bulk of the doping will take place in the months prior to the Olympics. If the ITF was serious about doping control they would be doing a blitz of out-of-competition tests in the 150 days leading up to London. Why is the ITF not doing more prior to the Olympics?

    Also, Dr. Miller continues to downplay the benefits of doping in tennis by making spurious distinctions between sports. Cycling requires technique and mental toughness (i.e., ask anyone who’s completed the Tour de France how much mental energy it took). Further, sports with a higher prevalance of doping (e.g., cycling and atheletics) conduct far more doping controls than tennis. For example, in 2010, the ITF conducted 2076 doping controls. In contrast, UCI (cycling) conducted 13,516 controls, and athletics conducted 4310 (see http://bit.ly/J5q2Ld).

    So, one can argue that Dr. Miller is just plain wrong and that the sports with the highest prevalance are those that test the most, meaning that tennis has a lower perceived prevalance simply because they’re not looking as hard as these other sports.

    • Michlob

       “…hand-eye coordination, technique, tactics, and mental toughness” are all prerequisites  in professional tennis. Just add stamina and strength: that’s where doping comes into it.

  • Amber Rajen

    Couple of top guys seems to have fitness/health issues, but they seem to be stronger and powerful. They were the part of the longest GS final of all time. The testing system is so weak. That’s why no body get caught.

  • http://twitter.com/Tehaspe THASP

    A few more questions for Dr. Miller:

    1. How many players have tested positive but been exonerated between 2006-present?
    2. How many players have been accused of a non-analytical violations (e.g., whereabouts) but exonerated between 2006-present?
    3. Are any players currently serving a “provisional suspension”? If so, how many?
    4. How many tennis player have therapeutic use exemptions? For what substances and what is the underlying medical condition?

  • Michlob

    What’s the distinction between systematic and non-systematic doping? Presumably, they’ve uncovered evidence of the latter but not the former?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Manfred-Smellington/100003131475326 Manfred Smellington

    Correction: hard courts and the Wimbledon courts are slower, clay is faster now than it used to be in most cases.