Alizé Cornet’s father brought a repairman to fix the intercom for his daughter’s apartment in Cannes, France, in October, a couple of weeks after she realized it wasn’t working. The delay nearly cost Cornet a year of her tennis career.
Cornet, 28, was charged by the tennis anti-doping program in January after missing three out-of-competition tests, the third of which she missed while in her apartment eating breakfast, oblivious to the doping control officer pushing the malfunctioning intercom button below.
After a hearing May 1, an independent tribunal on Tuesday dismissed the charges against Cornet, ruling that the officer did not sufficiently take “reasonable” measures to contact Cornet while outside her building.
In a statement, Cornet, currently ranked No. 32, said she felt “a great joy and a huge relief” after the charges were dismissed; they would have carried a one-year ban, if upheld.
“The wait from these last six months was a true nightmare for my family and I, and knowing that I will be able to keep doing what I love fills me with an extraordinary energy,” she said.
The episode shines a light on a burden for tennis players and other elite athletes: having to make themselves available for unannounced out-of-competition testing at a chosen hour, every single day, without advance notice.
“It’s a foundation of a good anti-doping program,” said Stuart Miller, who leads the International Tennis Federation’s anti-doping program. “You can’t have an effective out-of-competition testing program without asking players to provide you information as to where they can be found and can be accessible for testing.”
Amid a lifestyle of constant travel, when plans can change based on the results of each match, players must remember to diligently update their whereabouts for each night in a timely manner, which they can do on a website, on an app or by email. Players are allowed only two mistakes — either an unsuccessful attempted test by a doping control officer or failing to submit a location — in a 12-month period, before the third strike triggers a suspension.
Roughly the top 100 men and women in singles and a smattering of doubles and wheelchair players make up the testing pool of 250 professional tennis players. For the most part, they have learned to stay on top of the rigorous regimen.
“It’s challenging,” Johanna Konta said. “It’s the one thing that I will probably miss the least when I retire. But it’s also a necessary part of the game, and I understand why it’s in place. But it’s definitely an invasive thing.”
Cornet was the first tour-level player to be charged by the ITF with three missed tests since the rule was introduced in 2009.
The first two tests that Cornet missed in the 12-month window were for similar reasons: She was flying on both days. In one instance, she left early to avoid traffic on the way to the airport.
Howard Jacobs, one of the lawyers representing Cornet in the case, said they had initially considered also contesting the second missed test, but decided to focus only on the third. In that case, the doping control officer, Lina Rossetti, said she pushed the doorbell four times, once every 15 minutes within the hour. With three minutes left in the allotted hour, Rossetti called Cornet’s phone, but the call went straight to voicemail.
Cornet said she did not see her phone ring, and saw only a missed call from an unknown number, with no voicemail message left.
Jacobs said Rossetti had waited until the hour was almost up to attempt reaching Cornet by phone because “you don’t want to give advance notice to the player.”
“The rules are set up with this paranoia that if you give athletes any advance notice, that they’re doping all the time and they’re going to do something to avoid testing positive,” he added.
The tribunal ruled that Rossetti fell short of making a “reasonable attempt” to reach Cornet by not asking any of the several people who exited the building while she was waiting outside to let her into the building. One of the people was Cornet’s roommate.
“For Ms. Rossetti to say she did not contact neighbors because of concerns as to advance notice is in our view inconsistent with the protocol,” the tribunal’s majority ruled. “Nor do we regard her concerns as to delicacy, privacy or the neighbors being busy as answers.”
The tribunal said a doping control officer also “must surely reasonably contemplate the possibility that the buzzer might not be working.”
The decision was not unanimous among the three arbitrators on the panel; the decision called it “a case close to the borderline.”
Konta said she missed a test for the first time in her career when traveling to California from her home in England in March. She updated her information on Saturday night in California, but with the eight-hour time difference, it was already Sunday morning back home.
“It’s definitely something that I think puts a lot of stress on you as a player,” Konta said. “Me, it made me second-guess if I was doing it wrong, so it took a little bit of time to trust myself again. I tell everyone around me to remind me as well. It’s very easy to forget when you get caught up in a day or finish a late match.”
Caroline Garcia said she sets reminders on her phone for each evening and each morning to make sure she stays on top of the whereabouts requirements.
Julia Goerges sets an alarm each night for five minutes before her chosen testing window begins the next day.
“If you learn to live with it, I think it’s something which you can put it in the back of your head and say, ‘Hey, there’s something I need to worry about,’” Goerges said. “It doesn’t bother me. It’s a question of organization, I think.”
“It should be a clean sport — we all want this,” she added. “If this helps for it, I’m pretty happy to do it. If everybody does it the right way, we don’t need to complain about things.”