Monday, February 20, 2012

EPO Testing Revisited: 2008 (Part One)

Time to pull some things together. I was re-reading the New York Times article by Katie Thomas on doping in tennis from 2009 this weekend. I was struck by this statement:
"Tennis still does not conduct many tests for EPO. In 2008, the tennis federation conducted 20 tests for EPO in competition and 32 such tests out of competition. Those numbers appear low, [the ITF's Stuart] Miller said, because the tests are conducted only if blood screening indicates a player may be using the drug." (emphasis mine)
This is a rare piece of disclosure by the ITF. After all, when I asked them about EPO testing they revealed nothing, stating that the test distribution plan for EPO was "confidential." However, the 2009 NYT piece gives us an unambiguous statement on testing protocol.

In my view, this disclosure helps explains the decrease in EPO tests in both 2008 and 2009 because over the same period there was a decrease in blood tests (and, more importantly, there were no out-of-competition blood tests in both 2008 and 2009). If EPO tests are triggered only by blood screenings, and fewer blood tests are conducted, is it any surprise that the number of EPO tests declined?

In addition, I went back to the 2008 data and picked out the players that received an EPO test. It's quite a list. Remember, according to the ITF, the only reason these players received an EPO test would be that a blood screening indicated they may be using the drug. However, as we are all aware, no tennis player has ever been found to have committed an anti-doping violation for using EPO. Here are the 20 in-competition EPO tests:

All of this just leads to more questions: What is going on with the ITF's test distribution protocols? Why did blood testing decrease in 2008 and 2009? Why were there no out-of-competition blood tests in 2008 and 2009? Was the decline related to the number of blood screenings indicating the possibility of EPO usage? Why have no players ever been found guilty of a doping violation for EPO usage? Why did these players have blood screenings indicating they may be using the drug?

Data Source: ITF 2008 Anti-Doping Statistics


  1. Very interesting indeed, nice spot.

    Isn't EPO quite expensive? Doubt someone like Maximo Gonzalez could afford it - and if he could, it certainly wouldn't be on hard court where he is utterly useless.

  2. Apart from the Bercy tournament, what a bunch of no-names were tested at the FO and USO in '08 (the year Rafa rose to No.1 for the first time, incidentally.). So no top players could be using EPO at the slams? Not according to the ITF, apparently. Mr Howman will be very disappointed.

  3. at this point I'm expecting them to use their 5 annual EPO tests on mid-to-low ranked participants in women's doubles...that's clearly where there is the biggest potential for EPO use......some of those rallies can last up to 6 and sometimes even 7 or 8 out Niculescu and Uhlirova, the ITF has you in its crosshairs......once they nail those obvious EPO'ers and clean up women's doubles its on to women's wheelchair doubles, the second most obvious place to find dopers

  4. One thing I'm noticing about this blog is there seems to be a lot more action here when Nadal and Djokovic are playing in a tournament. Is that a coincidence?

  5. I posted this link in a previous blog entry, but got no response. I am surprised, since there has been a lot of critisism here of the tennis journalists, for not saying what they really feel about PEDs in tennis. Yet this article, and some of the comments, are saying that these insiders have almost the same suspicions that we have.

    Note, that some of the "commenters", are long time tennis players, and have freinds on the pro tour. They hear the things that the players are not allowed to say in public, and they can recognize fishy changes in build, and performance.

    "the way he recovers so quickly after long matches and never seems tired is superhuman like"

    "And this year, a former player I talked to, said he was stunned watching the Australian Open fifth set, where at 4-all in games, during the first point of the next game, Nadal and Djokovic engaged in a long, physical rally that left Djokovic on one knee, heaving for breath afterward. Nadal, this player said, walked up to the line to serve the next point, barely breathing."

    "One wonders how a guy can seriously injure his knee before the Australian Open and then reel off seven matches where he ran like a lion. No one knows for sure except Nadal and his team, but the question marks are definitely there."

    "Several players have said we would never hear about it if a major star tested positive as it would cost the tour tons of money if the top star had to be suspended"

    "but Nadal does bend the imagination. Who goes in for an MRI the day before the tournament begins and then plays like he’s a total warrior. He looked stronger than Djokovic physically and that wasn’t the case last year in Miami or at the US Open."

    "I admire his game and his ability to turn “garbage” into miracles on the court (running down balls no one has ever run down in the history of the sport, and doing something incredible with the ball)"

    "There are a lot of things that make me suspicious of Nadal. He continues to look mediocre in warmup grasscourt and hardcourt tournaments and then transforms into a beast in majors. Just look at his statistics in non clay tournaments since June 2010 after he had his PRP treatments:

    Hardcourt/Grasscourt Grand Slam finals made, June 2010 to the present:
    Nadal: 5
    Djokovic: 5
    Murray: 2
    Federer: 0

    Hardcourt/Grasscourt finals made in all other tournaments, June 2010 to the present:

    Federer: 13
    Murray: 9
    Djokovic: 7
    Nadal: 5

    Isn’t interesting how the result are completely reversed from Slams to all remaining tournaments? Nadal has looked very mediocre at Queens, Canada, Cincinnati, and Doha the last 3 seasons, yet had it not been for a change in diet, he would have won 5 of the last 6 non clay court Slams.

    1. Thanks, Cimber. I forget to comment on the story when you originally posted it. First, it appears that Dan Markowitz is the writer on that site who is sceptical, but, at this time, he's not quite willing to pursue the story enough.

      He talked to a "former player" about Nadal's performance, I'd encourage him to follow-up with the player and ask about doping (and doping control) on the tour in general (e.g., Do players micro-dose at tournaments? And what about loser targetted testing at Slam Events and how at non-Slams, if testing occurs, they usually only occur during the 1st and 2nd rounds?). That's the big picture story that needs investigating.

      Also, Scoop Malinowski clearly doesn't agree with the story: "I don’t believe the top players of today are using anything illegal. They are just in amazing condition."

    2. I do like the fact, however, that Markowitz engages with his readers in debate....there are several comments below that article and he seems fairly intent on defending his often do you see the writer of an article engaged in back-and-forth with readers, be they detractors or supporters?

      Malinowski seems a little ambivalent towards Nadal, but interestingly seems much less suspicious of Djokovic....he makes the point a couple times that Nadal still has more stamina and recuperative power than even than Djokovic 2.0....I do think there has been a noticeable shift in Nadal's "defense" where the majority of his supporters claimed there was no way he was doping to more of a stance that "he might be, but so is Djokovic"

    3. I do think Nadal looked less tired than Djokovic in the 5th set. He lost the match because of that bad backhand miss. If he makes that shot, he wins the 5th set 5-3.

  6. Interesting. It looks like Dan Markowitz tried to set up an interview with Christophe Rochus last year, but it didn't materialize:

  7. if the issue is funding, here's a thought - stop the ridiculous equal pay deal at the Slams and put the funding into WIDESPREAD testing. But it won't happen unless the ATP & WTA get right into it as well. And since they are essentially American-run sporting bodies, that ain't gonna happen. This level of testing wouldn't even catch nightclub bouncers who are addicted to 'roids. Don't they have to comply to some level of WADA testing in order to have tennis at the Olympics?