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Mateo Mathieu
Jan 19th, 2005, 01:23 PM
Svetlana eyes legal remedy

By Patrick Miles

January 20, 2005

RUSSIA's Svetlana Kuznetsova raised the possibility yesterday of legal action against the Belgian government after being identified unfairly as a drugs cheat.

The 19-year-old was named and shamed by sports minister Claude Eerdekens, who had taken it upon himself to reveal that she had tested positive for ephedrine at an exhibition event in Belgium last month.

"He has to pay for it," Kuznetsova said at Melbourne Park, a day after being cleared by the WTA of any transgression.

She admitted to taking a cold remedy just before the charity matches she played with her compatriot Elena Dementieva, France's Nathalie Dechy and Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium. But she criticised Eerdekens for announcing the result before due process had taken place.

As she pointed out again yesterday, the presence of ephedrine in a player's system does not constitute an offence out of season. Even if it was illegal, it should not have been revealed until a full investigation had run its course.

Eerdekens jumped the gun in order to protect Henin-Hardenne from being implicated and, in so doing, cast a shadow over the other three women before he eventually confirmed it had been Kuznetsova who had failed the test.

Asked whether she was considering a lawsuit, she said: "These days, my lawyers, my agents, my parents, the WTA definitely, everybody is working on it, and everybody is trying to help me.

"Everybody's on my side because this is a terrible thing. It's not my decision now. I'm playing the Australian Open; I'm here to play. I'm not going to think now who I'm going to sue, who I don't. So definitely he has to pay for it, you know.

"But this is going to be the thing for my management, my agents, my parents. They are going to think about this."

It seems the courts are her refuge in more ways that one, judging by yesterday's speedy, 40-minute demolition job on France's Marion Bartoli, whose total contribution to the scoreline was two games in the first set.

"I'm professional enough to go there and just to do my job," Kuznetsova said.

"While I was on the court, I was not thinking about this; and just afterwards, walking off the court, I felt like everything is starting to come back to me, to come back on my mind.

"When I played the match, I was focused on my match."

Kuznetsova, the US Open champion and No.5 seed at Melbourne Park, said she had still not been officially notified that she had failed a drugs test. "All I know is from the press," she said.

For the first time since the scandal appeared, the player at its centre was able to speak freely of the circumstances.

"I went to Belgium; I had a temperature like 37. I just felt sick, and I went to the doctor. That is usual for everybody. And he gave me medicine, and I was taking it. So nothing wrong with that," Kuznetsova said.

Having asked the doctor whether the medicine he recommended, which is available over the counter in most countries, was appropriate, she took the cold remedy "during the time he told me to take it".

She also had notified the testing authorities of her medication.

"Everything was fine - no comments," Kuznetsova said.

The Russian was able to laugh about her new-found fame.

"Last year, I played the US Open; I won one of the biggest events," she said. "I worked for this all my life. It was a big dream for me. And I was not so famous.

"Now everybody is coming to my press conference, looking at my practice. You know, it feels totally different. I feel like a star here, and I didn't do nothing [sic] wrong.

"So this is the funny thing about this. I'm not afraid of nothing [sic] because I didn't do nothing [sic] wrong."

She even sounded a note of sympathy for Eerdekens, who is bound to come under siege for his apparent brain fade.

"I feel that he shouldn't do this because I think it's worse for him than for me," Kuznetsova said. "Maybe it's touched my reputation a little bit, but I think everybody understands. And I don't know what he was thinking of."

A reported rift in the Russian camp did not concern Kuznetsova, who was sent to Coventry by Dementieva over the incident. Dementieva said on Tuesday she was "very upset" and did not want to talk to Kuznetsova.

"She said her word in the press yesterday. I didn't talk to her; I didn't see her," Kuznetsova said. "I kind of understand her. I don't mind what she says. Everybody has an opinion. That's fine.

"Sometimes, we just understand disappointment with other people because I think we are all involved and we are all victims of this."

The Australian