Friday, February 17, 2012

Doping Control: 2009 WTA Memphis

What I found while doing this post surprised me so much that I didn't believe the results at first. And even after quadruple checking, I still find it bizarre.

This post on doping control is an exercise in simplicity. I use only screen captures of publicly available ITF and WTA documents to drive home how it easy is blow apart the idea that tennis has a "stringent" anti-doping regime. The 2012 WTA Memphis event takes place next week. So, let's look at the 2009 edition that took place from February 15 to February 22 of that year, and featured doping controls. A total of 20 controls occurred over February 16 and 17. Here is a screen capture of those controls from the ITF's 2009 Anti-Doping Report:

Samples taken at WTA Memphis 2009

Michaella Krajicek was tested on February 17, 2009. Krajicek was eliminated in the quarterfinals on February 19, 2009. Why is that significant? First, of course, the last test of the tournament was conducted on February 17, so it's clear that no tests were conducted for any of matches in the quarters, semis, or the final. However, take a look at Krajicek's fellow quarterfinalists. Here they are courtesy of a screen capture of the draw sheet from the WTA website:

How many of the quarterfinalists were tested?

The other quarterfinalists were: Azarenka, Erakovic, Keothavong, Lisicki, Parmentier, Safarova, and Wozniacki. Now check their names against the doping control list. None of them were tested.

There you have it: A tournament (32-player draw) with doping control, where seven out of the eight quarterfinalists (including the eventual champion) never got tested.

Find an error? Let me know.


  1. wow that is shocking. most of the names on the list aren't exactly household names. The top ranked players were given a pass.

  2. Here's an interesting article about doping in mixed martial arts (MMA). I feel like a lot of what is discussed here is very relevant to what is going on in tennis and it has a lot of interesting points about protocol that are more about testing for sports in general rather than just MMA.

  3. First I did not really get what you were writing about.
    A closer look at the draw eventually revealed the secret: The seeded players were not tested at all.
    Let's calculate the probability of randomly choosing 20 unseeded players out of 32, when 8 are seeded, by means of the hypergeometric distribution: N=32 is the number of elements in the base set, M=24 is the amount of unseeded players. Twenty players are to be tested, all of which are to be unseeded, hence we got a sample size of 20, which is also the number of elements in the sample featuring the observed attribute.
    The probability is the fraction of the observed to the possible events:
    (24 over 20)/(32 over 20) = 0.000047 = 0.0047%
    Indeed, really unlikely to happen by chance.

    1. Good catch, I didn't notice that about the seeded players. However, I'm not sure what you didn't understand. I was illustrating the illusion of stringent testing (i.e., critics of the site constantly say that top players are "tested all the time."

      One note on your calculations, I think a few of the tests were on players only entered in the doubles draw. Probably won't affect you main result of unlikely to happen by chance.

    2. I simply see no possibility to detect top players beforehand without invoking an objective measure like the seed.
      You are right, eight of the tested players did not play the singles.
      Taking a glance at the Doubles draw confirms my conclusion:
      All of the seeded players have not been tested (at least officially).
      In my opinion, this is a scandal, we don't even need figures about probability here.
      Nonetheless I still provide them: As 16 players took part in both disciplines a total amount of 48 players participated in the tournaments. 5 of them were seeded in both singles and doubles, which means that there were 11 seeds overall. 20 players got tested, all of them unseeded.
      (37 over 20) / (48 over 20) = 0.00095 = 0.095 % ~ 1 ‰
      Still unlikely.

  4. The ITF are scared to test their top players! WADA, where are you?

  5. Remember when Nalbandian was quoted basically saying that no one would think Nadal doped if they saw firsthand how much energy he has all the time, which is like looking at a roiding NFL player that's 6'2" and 295 and concluding that he's so muscular there's no reason for him to take steroids...the ITF seems to be operating under the (horribly innacurate) assumption that the seeded players are already the best and thus don't need to dope and that the unseeded players are the ones that are more likely to dope, because they need fact, it's the exact

    1. In fact, I believe it's a bit different: On the one hand it may represent some incentive for the stars to join their tourmanents, provided by the organisators, on the other hand they may not even want to risk a star getting caught positive, bad for the business. Killing two birds with one stone...

    2. I think that, in the main, tennis doesn't want to risk a tournament champion testing positive (i.e., what has happened in cycling) and have to nullify the results. That would be a huge PR mess, especially if it happened at a Grand Slam event. So, I think it can be easily argued that their testing protocol reflects such a risk mitigation strategy. Only a very inept doper would get caught.

    3. I was being facetious, for what it's worth...the problem with the total lack of integrity and transparency involved in the testing program is that it leaves way too many possible motivational avenues open....there has to be at least one reason, but there may in fact be more than can both be equally right or it could even be more convoluted....what is obvious is that it isn't kosher.

    4. I think there's a lot more at stake than you have suggested. Consider that fact that the big names are highly involved in charitable foundations carrying their own names. Consider entire product lines from the worlds biggest brands carrying the names of the top stars.

    5. Speaking of charities: "Rarely has grace so swiftly begotten grace, $2 million pouring into Sosa's foundation for hurricane victims in his native Dominican Republic and a flurry of checks for $62 and $70 into McGwire's Los Angeles-based charity for abused children."

      From the SI piece I posted here:

    6. A charity Foundation is like an insurance policy. What if Agassi had done something worse than crystal meth? How would the Andre Agassi School cope with that kind of story?

  6. What I think people forget, is that the top players have the money, and support from their national authorities (because these athletes return much "prestige" to the country), that they can afford the best medical advice on how to beat the tests. Subsequently the top players are less likely to test positive than lower ranked players who do it without support of doctors/trainers that are expert in how to administer PEDs without getting caught (see Charlie Francis, Victor Conte, Gil Reyes, Dr Ferrari, Dr. Cotorro).

    Lower ranked "doping lone wolves", like Kendrick are much more likely to get caught, than is Milos Raonic, who has the best doping doctor in tennis today (Dr. Cotorro, whose area of expertise is "doping control"). This leads to the mistaken conclusions like "only lower ranked players are getting caught, so they are trying to make up for their lack of talent". I suspect that the higher ranked players are more likely to be doping, but they are much better protected (by doping experts, by the ITF, by the media,...).

    This is why uncle Toni, said to the French "you will never catch Rafa". This is not something that a coach of a clean player would say. He is effectively saying, "Ya, Rafa is doping, but because he has such great protection, he will never be officially caught. So Nya Nya Ny,a Nya Nya Nya".