And now I know - it was NEVER fair.
I spent twelve years of my life as a professional tennis player, from ages 13 to 25 years old.
So you can imagine how personally I took it when I heard the news about Maria Sharapova taking Melodinum, which is now banned:
I was pissed.
Sharapova at the Australian Open, AP Photo
I first saw Maria Sharapova in 2000 at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy, where I was playing a junior tennis tournament. She was 13 years old, but already stood six feet tall. I was a year older, 5 inches shorter and slightly intimidated by her majestic size, the power of her ball, and the entourage of the tennis coaches, physical trainers, doctors and her super controlling father, Yuri, surrounding her at all times.
There was a lot of hype from the media about this new phenom, she was dubbed the next Anna Kournikova. Over the years, I played against her 5 times.
I knew she was going to be good from the first time I played her. She had been programmed since the age of 4 years old, and I feel like her whole career was planned and premeditated by her father. I ended up playing her twice, including at Wimbledon and The Australian Open. But I never won. She was too big, too powerful and for God sakes, the girl never really got tired.
There were times when I often wondered how she came to be 6 foot 3 inches tall when having such average size parents, and rumors circulated about why that may be. Those rumors may seem silly, but I had other concerns that were more concrete about whether or not she was playing fair.
The year she won the U.S. Open in 2006, her father was caught coaching her from the stands, which is illegal on the WTA tour, but over the years that was as bad as it got ... until now, of course. She also had a loud and incessant grunt that nearly every other competitor complained about.
It wasn't just annoying, it seemed strategic, because it was very difficult to hear the ball come off the racquet. The sound of the ball as it comes off the racquet is good indication of how hard or fast the ball is coming at you, and weather or not your opponent hit a clean ball or a shank. There were times when her grunt was so loud that you would prepare for a powerful shot, when the ball was hit at a slower pace.
It got so bad even the ESPN commentators got annoyed with having to commentate her matches.
But over time, my hatred of Maria Sharapova (out of just plain jealousy, if I'm being totally honest) turned to admiration. She had it all — contracts, titles, money, and beauty.
I was a journeywoman. In sports, a journeywoman is a player who works her ass off and travels all around the world 32 weeks a year and tries to collect as many points as possible to stay ranked between 50-150 in the rankings. A journeywomen never gets too high in the rankings, but remains in the same area for a long time and is a consistent performer.
But I learned quickly that no matter how hard I trained (most top 50 world ranked girls train a good 5 to 6 hours a day) there was a 99% chance I would lose to Maria, and I became OK with that.
It didn't bother me anymore because she had become iconic, and I honestly felt honored when I had the opportunity play against her.
But then I learned about the Melodinum.
And here's the thing: When you become an iconic figure like Maria, along comes responsibility.
Ashley and her husband, Chuck
You have a duty to play fair and have respect for the sport. Now it feels to me like neither of those ever occurred. I feel cheated, and I'm sure so many others do, as well. She obviously was not playing by the rules.
This drug enhances your ability to play above and beyond your natural capabilities. In sports, the super successful athletes have access to expensive private doctors and performance enhancing drugs not yet banned or discovered by the Anti Doping Agency, like Melodium was back then.
I think this offense should be taken very seriously and with the utmost penalty, because for 10 years she seems to have never played "sober".
This is frustrating to me and so many others, but I'm fine. After all, she may have won 30 singles titles and 5 grand slams, but I feel like I'm winning, too.
I have a handsome husband (I married my coach!) and am a mom to two sweet, hilarious kids.
Yeah, I would've liked to have beaten Sharapova, but now I know that maybe it was never fair. Maybe I never had a chance, because I chose to base my career simply upon working my ass off every single day.
I wish I could have another opportunity to play her under fair conditions. Even though all this time has passed, I can't help but ask myself ... who is the real Maria Sharapova, how good was she after all?