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No way back for Puerta

December 22, 2005 17:41 IST

Mariano Puerta's tennis career came to a shuddering and probably permanent halt on Wednesday, a little under seven months after its peak.

On June 3, the 27-year-old, who has been handed a record eight-year ban for testing positive for the banned stimulant etilefrine, was just a couple of points away from taking the French Open final into a fifth set.

Although he failed to convert those two set points and lost in four sets to Rafael Nadal, the impetus of his best Grand Slam performance soon had the lefthander in the world top 10.

Little did he know then that the urine test he gave after the Roland Garros final had started a course of events that would leave his career in an even worse state than it had been a year before, and with no way back.

In July 2004 Puerta had been allowed back on the professional tennis circuit after a nine-month ban for testing positive for the banned anabolic agent clenbutoral.

His mitigating plea that he had used the substance to ease asthma, an ailment he had suffered from since childhood, had resulted in what many considered a lenient punishment.

It still, however, left him with a world ranking of 440 and the tournaments he returned to were not the glamorous ATP events in California and Monte Carlo but those of the second-tier Challenger Tour.

Showing the grit and determination that characterised his play, Puerta headed off to the likes Iran and Uzbekistan to earn the right to play at the top level once again.

He got back onto the ATP circuit in February 2005 and in his second tournament reached the final in Buenos Aires. He went one better in Casablanca in April and by the time the French Open, the holy grail of claycourters, arrived he was unseeded but ranked 37th.

SPORTING HEROES

Mariano Ruben Puerta was born in Cordoba the son of a tennis coach and had a racket in his hand by the time he was five.

His childhood sporting heroes were American basketball player Michael Jordan and, almost inevitably, Argentine soccer striker Diego Maradona, whose own career was effectively ended by a failed dope test at the 1994 World Cup.

From the age of seven he played at the same club as Guillermo Canas, who was to become a close friend and another member of the "Argentine Armada", whose considerable feats in tennis have been tainted by doping offences.

Canas is serving a two-year ban for testing positive for a diuretic.

Puerta first came to international attention in 1995 when he finished runner up to fellow Argentine Mariano Zabaleta in the junior final at Roland Garros and ended the year fourth in the world junior rankings.

Thereafter Puerta built a solid professional career, particularly in claycourt tournaments, until that 2003 test failure.

After losing to Nadal in Paris Puerta said he wanted nothing more from his career than the chance to play in another French Open final.

Notwithstanding the determination he showed in putting his career back together last year, he is unlikely to get that chance.

Source:
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