MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin called on government officials Wednesday to step up the country’s efforts against doping in sports.
Putin’s comments in a cabinet meeting came as Russia reels from revelations that athletes including Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a substance that increases blood flow and was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency from Jan. 1.
The spate of positives follow the decision in November to suspend Russia’s track and field athletes from international competition after a WADA panel detailed systematic corruption and doping cover-ups in the country.
“It’s obvious that our national anti-doping legislation needs serious improvement,” Putin said, according to the Tass agency. “I am asking the government to work on the question of raising the effectiveness of the national fight against doping.”
When the doping scandal broke in November, some Russian officials rejected the allegations and news media suggested it could be a Western conspiracy to deny the traditionally strong track and field athletes a place at the Rio Olympics in August.
But Putin told the cabinet that “it’s not necessary to politicize anything or advance any conspiracy theory.”
Instead, he said “Our sports leadership demonstrated a lack of understanding of the relevance of these issues, did not update on time the relevant lists (of banned substances) that were presented … did not inform athletes and coaches in time about the decision of the World Anti-Doping Agency to ban several substances.”
If Serena Williams is to win a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title at the French Open, she may have to go through her older sister in the fourth round.
Williams, the sixth seed, could play Venus Williams in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, which begins Sunday.
Serena opens against countrywoman Kristie Ahn, whom she beat in the first round at the U.S. Open. Serena could then get her U.S. Open quarterfinal opponent, fellow mom Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria, in the second round.
If Venus is to reach the fourth round, she must potentially get past U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka in the second round. Azarenka beat Serena in the U.S. Open semifinals, ending the American’s latest bid to tie Margaret Court‘s major titles record.
Venus lost in the French Open first round the last two years.
The French Open top seed is 2018 champion Simona Halep, who could play 2019 semifinalist Amanda Anisimova in the third round.
Coco Gauff, the rising 16-year-old American, gets 2019 semifinalist Jo Konta of Great Britain in the first round in the same quarter of the draw as Halep.
The field lacks defending champion Ash Barty of Australia, not traveling due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Also out: U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka, citing a sore hamstring and tight turnaround from prevailing in New York two weeks ago.
Rafael Nadal was put into the same half of the French Open draw as fellow 2018 and 2019 finalist Dominic Thiem of Austria, with top-ranked Novak Djokovic catching a break.
Nadal, trying to tie Roger Federer‘s male record 20 Grand Slam singles titles, could play sixth-seeded German Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals before a potential clash with Thiem, who just won the U.S. Open.
Djokovic, who is undefeated in 2020 save being defaulted out of the U.S. Open, could play No. 7 seed Matteo Berrettini of Italy in the quarterfinals before a possible semifinal with Russian Daniil Medvedev.
Medvedev is the fourth seed but is 0-3 at the French Open. Another possible Djokovic semifinal opponent is fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who reached the fourth round last year.
The most anticipated first-round matchup is between three-time major champion Andy Murray and 2015 French Open champion Stan Wawrinka. In Murray’s most recent French Open match, he lost in five sets to Wawrinka in the 2017 semifinals.