Picture the scene. 6 a.m. on a rest day at home in winter. There’s an unexpected knock at the door. ITF drug testers arrive to take a blood sample. Right now. This is not fun for anyone. But out of the mundane awkwardness of out-of-competition drug-testing comes general confidence in a sport’s integrity and its continual financial health through sponsorship. That’s the theory. And despite the cynicism of many, the numbers suggest it is also becoming practice. While we graded the ITF’s drug-testing programme a solid B last year, a B+ is in order for 2014’s results.
Last week the ITF released data on the extent of their drug-testing programme for 2014. Based on that data, 2014 was another year of improvement by the ITF. Following on from 2013’s introduction of the biological passport and the commensurate increase in the number of out-of-competition blood tests, 2014 saw more tests than ever before, with the majority of the effort going to increased out-of-competition testing. [See footnote 1]
Across both ATP and WTA tours, the ITF administered 3,529 tests in 2014 (both blood and urine), an increase of 28% against 2013’s total of 2,752. More players were tested: 931 in 2014 (vs 784 in 2013 and 666 in 2010). Tests were split 2,090 for those administered at tennis tournaments (in-competition) and 1,439 for out-of-competition tests, itself an increase against just 593 out-of-competition tests in 2013.
Many if not most players were also tested by their national anti-doping authority. For example, Serena Williams (8 times) and John Isner (5) were also tested by the US Anti-Doping Authority (USADA). These figures are not included in the ITF’s reporting.
ITF Anti-doping Programme 2008-2014; in-competition and out-of-competition tests(source: ITF)
Needling issues – your passport to the Top 50
Out-of-competition testing and the use of biological passports are widely regarded as indispensable elements in combating the use of drugs in professional sport. The ITF shows admirable transparency in publishing the names of players, and the number and type of tests administered (in-competition, out-of-competition but not blood/urine [See footnote 2]).
Accordingly, analysis of the 2014 out-of-competition data shows that more players within the top 50 (on both tours) were tested more frequently in 2014 than in 2013 [See footnote 3]. The reasons some players were not tested out-of-competition in 2014 was injury (and therefore not playing) or retirement. See chart below.
Out-of-competition testing 2013-2014 – ATP / WTA Top 50 (source: ITF)
However, further analysis, raises questions as to why Melzer, Granollers, Mahut or Querrey – all top 50 players as at 31 December 2013 and the other clear circles in the chart above – were not tested out-of-competition in 2014; similarly, on the women’s side, Ursula Radwanska and Carla Suarez Navarro.
Expanding the previous dataset to the top 100, analysis shows that out-of-competition testing is almost non-existent on both tours outside the top 50. The obvious exception is players previously banned, in this case Troicki (Marin Cilic was also tested 7 or more times out-of-competition). See chart below.
Out-of-competition testing 2013-2014 – ATP / WTA Top 100 (source: ITF)
Is it desirable that out-of-competition testing is expanded to cover more than just those in the top 50? Of course, yes. A programme should cover at least all players that play at the top ATP / WTA tour levels (i.e. ATP and WTA main tours plus ITF-run 125k events for women). That means expanding the testing programme to the top 100 on each tour at least.
When I wrote this post last year following the publication of testing results for 2013, I used a comparison with road cycling. The leading 513 professional road cyclists on the UCI WorldTour were tested on average 11.7 times in 2012 this report, pages 13-16).
According to the ITF’s 2013 data the 500 tennis players (male and female) who were tested the most in 2013 were tested on average 4.7 times [See footnote 4]; the majority of those players were only tested between 1 and 3 times. This year, the 500 tennis players tested the most were tested on average 5.1 times. Getting better but still a fair distance to go, whether you consider comparison with road cycling fair or not.
In 2012, Rabobank pulled its sponsorship of a professional cycling team, citing continual drug scandals and the ensuing loss of confidence in the integrity of the sport as its main reason. No one likes being woken up at 6 a.m. But broadening out-of-competition testing in tennis will help to sustain both the moral and financial health of the game.
 Biological passports record anti-doping test results for a player over time and are considered by WADA, the international organisation overseeing anti-doping activity, to be an effective way of detecting potential doping activities.
 Urine tests are the most widely used anti-doping tests (see WADA 2012 Anti-Doping Testing Figures Report). Urine tests are inexpensive and considered to be a reliable test for the presence of steroids, stimulants and substances such as Erythropoietin (EPO).
Blood tests are more expensive. Typically they are used to detect substances such as Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
The majority of the ITF’s in-competition tests are urine tests; the majority of the out-of-competition tests are blood tests. A player’s biological passport is based on blood tests.
 For tests in 2014, the ranking I have used is the ranking of each player from 31 December of the previous year, i.e. 2013. Similarly for tests in 2013, I used the ranking from 31 December 2012. For example , the WTA world number 43 as at 31 December 2013, Andrea Petkovic, was tested 7 or more times out-of-competition in 2014.
 There is an assumption here. The ITF-published data showing the number of tests per player groups the number of tests in three groups: 1-3 tests; 4-6 tests, 7+ tests. For the purposes of the above calculation, I made the assumption that a player with 1-3 tests was tested twice, a player with 4-6 tests was tested 5 times, and a player with 7+ tests was tested 7 times.
Featured image source: ITF