Wed | Oct 18, 2017

Match-fixing allegations overshadow day one

Published:Tuesday | January 19, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Serena Williams of the United States makes a backhand return to Camila Giorgi of Italy during their first round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, yesterday. Williams won 6-4, 7-5.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):

Novak Djokovic recalled his own brush with match fixing, as the start of the year's first Grand Slam tournament was overshadowed by corruption allegations.

Djokovic started his bid for a sixth Australian Open title with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 win over Chung Hyeon of South Korea yesterday, hours after the BBC and Buzzfeed News published reports alleging match fixing had gone unchecked in tennis.

No players were identified in the reports, which alleged 16 players had been flagged repeatedly with tennis authorities but not sanctioned on suspicion of match fixing. Half of those are entered in the Australian Open, the reports said.

The governing bodies for the sport and the Tennis Integrity Unit issued a joint statement, read by ATP chairman Chris Kermode, at a hastily convened news conference at Melbourne Park.

Kermode said tennis authorities "absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason, or isn't being investigated".

Djokovic later responded to a question about an approach ahead of a tournament in St Petersburg, Russia, in 2007.

"I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team," he said. "Of course, we threw it (the approach) away right away. It didn't even get to me. The guy that was trying to talk to me, he didn't even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it.

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"Unfortunately, there were some, in those times, those days, rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with. In the last six, seven years, I haven't heard anything similar."

Djokovic was an up-and-coming player at the time, not winning the first of his 10 major titles until the 2008 Australian Open.

"It made me feel terrible because I don't want to be anyhow linked to this kind of you know, somebody may call it an opportunity," he said. "For me, that's an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport, honestly. I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis."

Djokovic said he thought the allegations related to matches from almost 10 years ago, and didn't involve active players.

Roger Federer, a 17-time major winner and former leader of the player council, agreed the allegations likely weren't new but remained "super serious".

"I would love to hear names," Federer said. "Then at least it's concrete stuff, and you can actually debate about it. Was it the player? Was it the support team? Who was it? Was it before? Was it a doubles player, a singles player? Which slam?

"It's super serious, and it's super important to maintain the integrity of our sport. So how high up does it go? The higher it goes, the more surprised I would be, no doubt about it."

Serena Williams was on court preparing for her opening 6-4, 7-5 win over No 34-ranked Camila Giorgi when Kermode was holding a news conference to respond to the fixing allegations.

The 21-time major winner said there was no hint of match fixing on the women's tour.

"I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard," she said. "As an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but, you know, historic."