Serena Williams has complained of excessive dope-testing demands after a tester working for Usada visited her in Florida outside her specified “whereabouts” window and found her not at home.
When informed of the visit, Williams then phoned the head of the Women’s Tennis Association, Steve Simon, to say that she was being unfairly targeted. Simon told her that this was a Usada issue, and that he would pass her views onto Travis Tygart, the organisation’s head.
But the story escaped into the public domain after Simon was overheard discussing the case on his mobile phone in a public area of San Francisco Airport. An eavesdropper forwarded the information to the Deadspin website, which published it late on Wednesday night, UK time.
It should be emphasised that no athlete is obliged to comply with a testing visit if it is not made during the 60-minute window for which the athlete identifies their whereabouts in advance each day.
The Deadspin report also highlighted the fact that Williams appears to have been tested a disproportionate amount of times in 2018, having already given five samples to Usada before this latest visit – which occurred at 8.30am on June 14 – while most other American tennis players had been tested only once or not at all.
A spokeswoman for Williams gave Deadspin the following statement. “Over her 23-year career in tennis, Serena Williams has never tested positive for any illegal substance despite being tested significantly more than other professional tennis players, both male and female – in fact, four times more frequently than her peers. She has vocally supported, respected and complied with Usada testing throughout her entire career. While she willingly continues to submit to testing, there is absolutely no reason for this kind of invasive and targeted treatment.”
Shortly before her latest comeback at last month’s French Open, Williams had complained on Twitter about the fact that “anti doping is here … again … second time this week. proud to participate to keep the sport clean. Even if they do test me at my current ranking of 454 in the world.”
But while Williams’s frustration is understandable, it should also be pointed out that athletes returning from a long absence are often the subject of repeated drug tests, as they are seen as part of a higher-risk category than athletes in the flow of regular competition.
When contacted by Telegraph Sport on Thursday, Usada’s director of communications Brad Horn confirmed that the organisation “has conducted three test sessions on Serena Williams in 2018, with a total of five tests conducted during those sessions.” Horn added that “It is standard practice on many testing missions to obtain both urine and blood samples.”
Horn also stressed that “We talk with athletes all the time about clean sport and our programs. We spoke with Serena recently, as has been reported, about a recent test mission. Serena has been supportive and engaged with our program, and she is in good standing with our program.”
Williams has clearly undergone more Usada testing than most other tennis players, but then she has also won more titles and achieved more renown. Her sister Venus has given 43 samples overall, two more than Serena Williams herself, while Sloane Stephens has given 19 since 2011, Madison Keys 11 since 2014 and CoCo Vandeweghe 11 since 2015.
The International Tennis Federation’s figures are less precise, but they show that Serena Williams has been tested a minimum of 56 times since the data set begins in 2010 and Maria Sharapova – who is not subject to Usada’s programme as she plays under the Russian flag – has been tested a minimum of 61 times.