Tennis

Report on alleged match-fixing clouds Australian Open

Aussie Open overshadowed by report alleging widespread corruption

A bombshell report alleging widespread corruption in tennis cast a shadow over the start of the Australian Open in Melbourne yesterday as officials vigorously denied suppressing evidence of match-fixing.

The BBC and BuzzFeed reported that a "core group" of 16 players who reached the top 50 in the past decade, including Grand Slam title-winners, had repeatedly caused suspicion but never faced action.

Men's world No. 1 Novak Djokovic did little to play down the controversy when he admitted a member of his staff was approached about fixing a match early in his career, and he questioned whether betting companies should be allowed to sponsor big tournaments.

In 2007, Djokovic said an approach had been made offering him US$200,000 ($288,000) to throw a match at the St Petersburg Open in Russia, a tournament he did not ultimately play in.

Speaking after cruising through his opening match against South Korean teenager Chung Hyeon 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, the reigning Australian Open champion said: "I was not approached directly, I was approached through people who were in my team.

"Of course, we threw it away right away. The guy who was trying to talk to me, he didn't even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it.

"Unfortunately, there were some, in those times, those days, rumours, some talk, some people were going around.

"They were dealt with. In the last six, seven years, I haven't heard anything similar."

The latest claims, citing a leaked cache of secret files, forced a number of players to field questions on the subject at post-match press conferences yesterday.

The 28-year-old Djokovic expressed confidence there is no longer such a problem at the top level, but he could not speak for further down the rankings.

William Hill became the first "official wagering partner" of last year's Australian Open and, this year, advertisements for the British bookmaker adorn the three main showcourts at Melbourne Park for the first time.

Critics, who say the relationship sends out the wrong message, have called on Tennis Australia to end it and Djokovic said there should at least be a debate.

"Well, this is a subject for discussion, I think, today and in the future. It's a fine line. Honestly, it's on a borderline, I would say," he said. "Whether you want to have betting companies involved in the big tournaments in our sport or not, it's hard to say what's right and what's wrong.

"One of the reasons why tennis is a popular and clean sport is that it has always valued its integrity."

William Hill defended its association with Tennis Australia.

"Close partnerships between regulated and licensed betting operators like William Hill and sporting bodies are part of the solution to integrity issues, not part of the problem," said group director of security, Bill South.

"We have comprehensive information sharing agreements to inform the sport's integrity bodies and for the sport to promote licenced operators is key to ensuring transparency."

Roger Federer, the record 17-time Grand Slam champion, also said it was difficult to guess the significance of the report, but he welcomed the extra pressure that would now focus on match-fixers.

"There's more pressure on these people now, maybe because of this story, which is a good thing," Federer said.

Women's world No. 1 Serena Williams said she hadn't noticed anything untoward.

"When I'm playing, I can only answer for me, I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard," said Williams, after beating Camila Giorgi yesterday.

"I think that... as an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great but, you know, also historic. If there's (match-fixing) going on, I don't know about it." - AFP.

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