Viktor Troicki returns to the tennis tour after serving a one-year doping suspension
Troicki didn't fail a test but initially refused to take a blood test in April 2013
Formerly the No. 12 in the world, Troicki's ranking has fallen to 842nd
He went back to school during his time away, studying sports management
Languishing in the tennis equivalent of purgatory, the road to redemption for Viktor Troicki is likely to be a long one.
The Serb returns to the professional tour after his contentious one-year doping suspension ended Monday, but at a time when he should be in his prime Troicki is ranked 842nd – or in tennis’ abyss.
That means, without wildcards, he’ll struggle to get into ATP and even second-tier events.
It’s a world away from when Troicki was ranked 12th or when he became only the seventh man in the Open Era to win the decisive fifth match in a Davis Cup final.
“Honestly, it’s been a tough year,” Troicki told CNN in a telephone interview. “Mentally it was tough to handle everything but as time went on, I started preparing and practicing, and I was focused on my comeback and new start – and looking forward to it.”
From a financial standpoint, many might not have much sympathy for the 28-year-old.
After all, he claimed $900,000 in prize money in 2011 and has pocketed $4.5 million in his career.
Even taking into account expenses, he’s probably made a nice profit, and Troicki acknowledged that during his time away from the game, he’s been able to live a “normal” life.
He felt wronged by his ban and in that respect, he has backers including good pal and world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Troicki’s tale was a case of he said, she said.
Feeling ill and saying he had a longstanding fear of needles, Troicki refused to take a blood test at the Monte Carlo Masters in April 2013. He submitted the requisite urine sample.
He claimed doping control officer Elena Gorodilova told him he could skip the blood test that day without facing any punishment so long as he explained the situation to Stuart Miller, head of the ITF’s anti-doping program.
Gorodilova denied that claim but when the Court of Arbitration for Sport – Troicki appealed his original 18-month ban from the ITF – issued its irrevocable verdict in November, it stated: “The CAS panel considered that the DCO should have informed the player in clearer terms of the risks caused by his refusal to undergo a blood test but that, despite the misunderstanding between the player and the DCO, there was no suggestion that Mr. Troicki intended to evade the detection of a banned substance in his system.”
Still CAS ruled that Troicki “did indeed commit an anti-doping violation” and his sanction stood, though was reduced by six months.
Troicki still ponders the ordeal – and “often.”
“I think about it a lot, I can’t lie,” said Troicki, who took his blood test the next day. “For me it just feels unfair because I know what really happened in there. I know I never wanted to cheat. In the end I was totally clean and that’s what hurts me.
“She informed me wrong and I paid a big bill for that. I was always compliant with the rules and anti-doping system.”
Jack Reader, Troicki’s coach, went as far as to say that what happened was “disgusting.”
“It’s laughable, it’s disgusting, it’s incredible how it is,” Reader told CNN. “He followed her advice. Okay, he was negligent of the rules, but not a year’s worth.
“I think it’s unbelievably exaggerated the whole thing. Now we’re moving on and we’ll just prove to people something else.”
In response to Reader’s comments, Miller said that all players were treated “equally and fairly.”
“Mr. Troicki was afforded, and took, the opportunity to provide evidence to the Independent tribunal and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, both of which concluded that he had committed an anti-doping rule violation,” said MIller in an emailed statement sent to CNN.
CNN attempted to contact Gorodilova but a message left with International Doping Tests and Management Limited – whom Gorodilova was working for – wasn’t returned.
Early in his suspension, it was too painful for Troicki to watch tennis, he said, but he has done more of that in the last few months.
Djokovic, meanwhile, has continued to help Troicki.
After defending Troicki at the year-end championships, Djokovic has then practiced with his fellow Belgrade native. According to Troicki, some of their hitting sessions took place in Dubai, Miami and Monte Carlo – just before qualifying began at those events.
Under the terms of his ineligibility, Troicki wasn’t breaking any rules.
“Novak helped me a lot when he had weeks of preparation, he always invited me,” said Troicki. “He really did a lot for me and I will never forget that.”
Reader has stuck by Troicki, too.
He told the New York Times he was entitled to 100,000 euros ($135,000) if Troicki was ever found guilty of doping, but hasn’t cashed in.
“I could have had a nice holiday,” Reader, a laid-back Aussie, told CNN with a smile in June at the AEGON Championships. “I didn’t think it was justifiable to use that part of the contract.
“I felt Vik had enough problems and I wanted to stand by him. Now it’s up to me and particularly him, to get repayment.”
Matching his monetary success of 2011 won’t happen for a while.
“Financially it’s been terrible,” Troicki said. “When I start playing I won’t be able to compete at the level I was, at the biggest tournaments, biggest prize moneys.”
He tried to get a wild card into the main draw at next week’s ATP Swiss Open in Gstaad but was unsuccessful, and unless there are no shows, can’t get into qualifying, either.
The first priority for wild cards in qualifying are given to Swiss players, vice tournament director Julien Finkbeiner told CNN.
Yet, “it would be a good thing for us if he gets into the main draw,” Finkbeiner said, presumably because of Troicki’s standing as a former top-15 pro.
“He’s going to need wild cards into anything, Futures even,” said Reader, referring to the third rung of tennis’ professional ladder where some titlists in the first week of July received about $2,000.
That’s a huge initial huge wage cut for Troicki given first-round losers at Wimbledon pick up $46,000.
Troicki’s suspension came with at least one positive.
He went back to school, studying sports management at Alfa University in Belgrade, and Reader said the rest Troicki’s body received should add a “couple of years” to his career.
“It will take me another three or four years to graduate,” Troicki said. “It was the first time I thought about what to do with myself after my tennis career because you stop doing what you love and all of a sudden I don’t have anything.
A degree is “something that could be useful after my career,” Troicki continued.
But for now, Troicki’s goal is to re-establish himself at the elite level.
Troicki said he has been drug tested multiple times in the last year.
If he’s unwell and asked to take a blood test again at a tournament, he knows what he’d do.
“Well, I would definitely do it,” he said. “If I was told I must definitely do it or else I’d get a ban, I would have done it back then.
“For sure I learned a huge lesson. I will definitely pay more attention to this and try for it not to happen again.”