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Federer: It’s time to name players suspected of match fixing

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Roger Federer has heard enough speculation about match-fixing in tennis. If players are suspected of corruption, he wants names.

Federer was responding to reports by BBC and BuzzFeed News published Monday that tennis authorities have suppressed evidence of match-fixing and overlooked suspected cases involving players ranked in the top 50, including Grand Slam singles and doubles winners.

The reports said that none of these players had faced sanctions and more than half would be playing at this year’s Australian Open, which started Monday. The players weren’t identified by name.

“I would love to hear names,” Federer said after beating Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. “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,” Federer added. “So how high up does it go? The higher it goes, the more surprised I would be.”

ATP chairman Chris Kermode appeared at a news conference to reject the assertion that match-fixing had gone unchecked in the sport, saying the Tennis Integrity Unit remained “constantly vigilant and not complacent” when it comes to tackling corruption.

“The Tennis Integrity Unit and tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn’t being thoroughly investigated,” he said.

[MORE: Women’s elite stars shaking off injuries, colds at Australian Open]

The BBC and BuzzFeed allegations were based on files they reported had been leaked “from inside the sport” showing evidence of suspected match-fixing orchestrated by gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy that had been uncovered during an ATP investigation of a 2007 match in Sopot, Poland, involving suspiciously high levels of betting.

According to the reports, the ATP investigation widened to uncover a network of other players suspected of match-fixing, but officials didn’t follow up on the cases. Since then, the reports said, the ATP has repeatedly been warned by bookmakers, foreign police and other investigators about many of the same players, but hasn’t taken any action against them.

Kermode said the integrity unit had been formed in 2008 as a joint initiative of the International Tennis Federation, the ATP, the WTA and the Grand Slam Board to combat corruption in the wake of the Sopot investigation.

He maintained that the unit investigates every report it receives and takes action only when it has enough evidence to do so. It has since sanctioned 18 people for match-fixing, including five players and one official who received lifetime bans.

“You can have lots of information, lots of anecdotal reports, but it’s about getting evidence that we can use,” Kermode said.

TIU chief Nigel Willerton declined to say whether any players at the Australian Open were being monitored for suspected match-fixing.

Many of those punished have been lower-ranked players on the second-tier Challenger tour. Two of the most higher-profile players – former top-50 players Daniele Bracciali and Potito Starace – were initially banned for life before their suspensions were lifted by the Italian Tennis Federation last year.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic said he doubted the problem extended to the top level of the sport, and pointed to the enhanced monitoring systems put in place.

“We have, I think, a sport (that has) evolved and upgraded our programs and authorities to deal with these particular cases,” he said. “There’s no real proof or evidence yet of any active players (being involved in match-fixing), for that matter. As long as it’s like that, it’s just speculation.”

Djokovic did confirm, though, that members of his support team were approached about throwing a match in Russia in 2007.

“I was not approached directly. I was approached through people that were working with me at that time,” he said. “Of course, we (rejected) it 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.”

Other questions were raised Monday about whether the sport was sending mixed messages by allowing the bookmaker William Hill to become one of the Australian Open’s sponsors this year and advertise on stadium courts.

“Honestly it’s on a borderline, I would say,” Djokovic 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.”

Venus ready for return WTA Finals

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SINGAPORE (AP) Venus Williams returns to the year-end WTA Finals for the first time since reaching the 2009 final, and the fifth time overall, starting on Sunday in Singapore.

Williams joins top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania, second-ranked Garbine Muguruza of Spain, third-ranked Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic, fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, sixth-ranked Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, seventh-ranked Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia and ninth-ranked Caroline Garcia of France.

They’re all pretty special,” said Williams, of her career appearances in the year-end competition. “It’s the end of the year. Only Top 8 get here. It’s definitely something well earned.”

At 37-years-old, Williams is the third oldest player to qualify for the year-end championships behind a 39-year-old Billie Jean King in 1983, and a 38-year-old Martina Navratilova in 1994.

Williams is the oldest player in this draw with 27-year-old Wozniacki the next oldest.

Having played since 1995, Williams has seen the women’s game advance, saying: “The competition is so much greater. It’s a beautiful change, in fact.”

In 2008, Williams won the WTA Finals title, going 3-0 in the round-robin, and defeating Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the final.

She was also was a semifinalist in her first two appearances in the finals, in 1999 and 2000.

Williams reached two Grand Slam finals this season at the Australian Open, where she lost to what turned out to be an already pregnant younger sister, Serena, and at Wimbledon, where she fell to Muguruza.

Every player but Garcia has a possibility of playing themselves into the year-end No. 1 ranking depending on their result this week. Williams has ranked No. 1 for 11 weeks of her career.

In the round-robin, Williams is situated in the White Group with fellow big-hitters Muguruza and Pliskova, who both ranked No. 1 at some time during this season, and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Williams opens the competition against Pliskova on Sunday. The two are tied at one match apiece in their head-to-head.

She holds a 3-2 winning record over Muguruza and is 1-0 over Ostapenko.

“I think my group is more aggressive style players in the group and the other one is more defending,” Pliskova said. “I just like to play better these players.

“I start with Venus tomorrow, so I beat her once from match point and once I lost very close match. This one is open.”

Goerges ends 6-year title wait with victory at Kremlin Cup

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MOSCOW (AP) Julia Goerges ended her six-year wait for another WTA singles title Saturday with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over Daria Kasatkina in the Kremlin Cup final.

Goerges cruised to victory against her Russian opponent, who was ranked one place below her at 28th.

The German swept the first five games of the first set before Kasatkina could even get on the board.

Kasatkina put up more resistance at the start of the second, forcing three break points in Goerges’ first service game, but couldn’t convert them and was broken next game.

Goerges is now 3-7 in career singles finals, with her last title in Stuttgart in 2011. Before Saturday’s match, she had lost six straight finals, including three in the space of two months this summer.