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Tennis Officials Refuse Comment On Report Of Cocaine Use By Wilander And Novacek

January 28, 1996 GMT

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ The International Tennis Federation on Sunday refused to confirm a published report that tennis pros Mats Wilander and Karel Novacek tested positive for cocaine at last year’s French Open.

The British tabloid News of the World also said Wilander and Novacek have denied drug use and hired lawyers to clear their names, and will challenge the validity of the tests.

The players had talks last week with Association of Tennis Professionals officials, including the head of the anti-doping program, Dr. David Martin, the ATP’s Gavin Applebee, and the ITF’s Deborah Jevans, the report said.

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ITF president Brian Tobin said, ``I can’t confirm that there have been any positive tests. The ITF won’t be making any comment on this story.″

Wilander, 32, of Sweden, has won seven Grand Slam titles. Novacek, a 30-year-old Czech, ranked No. 8 in 1991, but now is down to No. 122. They withdrew from the Australian Open, citing injuries.

The News of the World report also included a statement of denial from the players’ lawyers.

``On behalf of our clients, we categorically deny the allegation.″ the statement said. ``We have lie detector evidence proving our clients are telling the truth in denying the allegation.

``We came to London with our clients and our expert witnesses to prove our clients’ innocence, as the ITF rules require. The ITF then canceled a hearing the night before the hearing was due to begin.

``As a result, we are issuing proceedings against the ITF in the High Court in London next week.″

Tobin said, ``Should any particular athlete be found in violation of the rules after full and due process, then he or she will be subject to the penalties proscribed.″

Positive test results subject a player to a three-month suspension on the first offense, a one-year suspension for the second, and permanent suspension for a third.

The French Open was played at the end of May and early June.

If confirmed, this would be the first major on-court drug scandal to taint tennis.

Boris Becker, winner of the Australian Open Sunday, was reprimanded by the ATP Tour in 1994 for claiming that drug abuse was rampant in men’s tennis.

Last year, Becker was fined $20,000 for insinuating that Thomas Muster’s comeback from dehydration after the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Open, to beat Becker in the final, was drug-inspired.

``Everybody knows the ATP drug testing is a joke,″ Becker said.

But Becker had little to say about Sunday’s reports.

``Both are good friends of mine, so I cannot comment so much,″ he said. ``I have to talk to them personally.″

The News of the World quoted former British Davis Cup player David Lloyd as saying, ``It’s not unknown for players to sprinkle cocaine on their wristbands and sniff it during a match.″

Swedish tennis star Bjorn Borg admitted in 1992 that he had sampled cocaine during the mid-1980s, but won a defamation lawsuit against a Swedish magazine that ran a story by his ex-girlfriend characterizing him as a ``user.″

Vitas Gerulaitis admitted to cocaine problems, and when he died in bed in 1992, it was immediately assumed that it was an overdose case. But the coroner found that carbon monoxide from a faulty room heater killed him.

Yannick Noah created a sensation in 1979 when he spoke of widespread recreational drug use on the tour, and cited a French Open finalist as an example.