Suspension leaves Hopman short
<br />By SCOTT COGHLAN</br>
HOPMAN Cup organiser Paul McNamee is spending Christmas Eve trying to secure a replacement for suspended Argentine Guillermo Coria in the unique mixed-teams tournament.
Coria, 19, was suspended for seven months by the ATP over the weekend after failing in his appeal against a positive test for the banned steroid Nandrolone. The suspension will also remove Coria, his country's second-ranked player, from the Davis Cup reckoning, with Argentina due to play Australia in the first round in February.
The Argentinian returned the positive swab in April and the appeal result left McNamee urgently seeking a partner for Paolo Suarez, with the Perth tournament starting on Saturday.
The political turmoil in Argentina and the timing of Coria's suspension have not made McNamee's task any easier, but he expects to gain the services of either Gaston Gaudio (ranked 47th in the world) or Mariano Zabaleta (60) for the event.
"There are nine Argentinian players in the top 100, which helps us," McNamee said yesterday. "The problem is finding players who haven't already committed themselves for next week. The two we are looking at are Zabaleta and Gaudio and we have to get them on the plane pretty quickly if they are going to make it.
"We will need to know by tomorrow and we want to get a replacement for Coria for the sake of Suarez, who herself is a top-30 player and needs the match practice before the Australian Open. We're doing everything possible to get another Argentinian man here."
If a new partner cannot be found for Suarez, the Italian team will join six other nations in the main draw, while McNamee will need to find an opponent for Greece in Saturday's play-off for the eighth and final spot in the tournament.
Due to the confidentiality guidelines of the ATP, McNamee said the first he knew of Coria's positive test was when the ban was announced on Saturday.
Considered one of the rising stars of South American tennis, Coria was ranked 30th in the world when he tested positive after consuming a dietary supplement that contained Nandrolone. He has not played since August and will not be able to return to the tour until March 13 next year, by which time he will have dropped out of the top 100.
Although he proved that he was unaware of the presence of Nandrolone in the supplement, Coria was also fined almost $US100,000 ($196,000) -- more than a quarter of his prize-money on the tour last year.
"I am devastated by this penalty, which I consider too harsh in light of the fact I proved to the tribunal that I did everything possible to abide by the anti-doping rules," he said. "I have not and would never take banned substances to enhance performance."
ATP chief executive Mark Miles was sympathetic to Coria's plight, but said his organisation took a very dim view of performance-enhancing substances.
"Even though the evidence in this case showed that the supplements consumed by Mr Coria were contaminated during manufacturing and did not list the banned substance on the label, he still must pay a significant price through suspension and forfeiture of points and prize-money," Miles said. "This decision is a very clear warning to tennis players and all world-class athletes about the risks of consuming dietary supplements."
McNamee said it was an upsetting time for the 19-year-old.
"He proved all the extenuating circumstances, which is very important to consider, but technically he's guilty of taking it," he said. "It is a relatively light sentence given the class of the drug and he'll be back on the court in a few months."
This is not the first time the Hopman Cup has been affected by a player suspension, with Croatia's Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic a late withdrawal several years ago after exceeding his fines limit and being automatically banned.