Tennis officials threw a protective veil around US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova yesterday and hit out at a Belgian government minister who said she had failed a doping test.
The furore overshadowed on-court action at the Australian Open where Andy Roddick led the charge of seeds into the men's second round and Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva skipped over their first hurdle in the women's draw.
Kuznetsova was accused by Belgian regional sports minister Claude Eerdekens of testing positive for a stimulant at a charity match in Charleroi last month.
Eerdekens said the world No. 5 had tested positive for ephedrine, a stimulant found in over-the-counter cough medicines.
However, the Russian has not broken any doping regulations and will remain in the Australian Open, WTA Tour chief Larry Scott said.
"I think what he [Eerdekens] has done is disgraceful. I know our players would like to see an immediate apology for the damage that it's done to our sport already," Scott said.
"It's just shameful what an irresponsible person like this can do to the reputation of a clean sport," he said.
Kuznetsova protested her innocence on Tuesday, saying she had taken cold medicine.
"I pride myself on being a clean athlete of the highest integrity and am offended by these disgraceful accusations," Kuznetsova said in a statement.
"I am sure of my innocence and I will not allow these irresponsible accusations, which do not comply with credible anti-doping procedures, to distract me or my performance at the Australian Open," she said.
The doping storm broke at the weekend when Eerdekens said that a player had tested positive during a four-player charity exhibition in Charleroi last month.
He said Belgian Justine Henin-Hardenne was not the player, throwing the spotlight on to the other three: Kuznetsova, Dementieva and Frenchwoman Nathalie Dechy.
Overnight Eerdekens said Kuz-netsova had tested positive for ephedrine, the taking of which is banned "in competition," or during official WTA tournaments.
Exhibition tournaments like the Charleroi event are regarded as out of competition and players can also apply for an exemption to the rules if they are taking cold medicines which may contain ephedrine, Scott said.
"I want to make clear that under the tennis anti-doping program, ephedrine is not a banned substance when it's out of competition," Scott said.
Kuznetsova's doubles partner, Australian Alicia Molik, typified the anger felt by players.
"I bought every single newspaper in the convenience store and threw them away. That's how strongly I felt about the issue," Molik said.
Kuznetsova had made a confident start to the Open on Monday, brushing aside American qualifier Jessica Kirkland 6-1 6-1.
On Tuesday, her Fed Cup team mate Myskina -- the French Open champion -- was untroubled in beating error-prone Czech Kveta Peschke 6-1 6-4.
While angry at being implicated in the controversy, Dementieva chalked up a 6-3 6-3 win over Ukrainian Alyona Bondarenko. Dechy, the 19th seed, beat Swiss Emmanuelle Gagliardi 6-4 6-3.
Molik, seeded 10th, kept local hopes alive when she downed Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-1 6-3 after the Spaniard saved five match points only to surrender with a double fault.
Roddick had been top seed in Melbourne last year but lost his world No. 1 spot to Roger Federer after he was beaten in the quarterfinals by Russian giant Marat Safin.