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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.”

Top-ranked Halep wins tough 3-setter in Miami

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Top-ranked Simona Halep of Romania struggled to post a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 second-round win over French lucky loser Oceane Dodin at the Miami Open on Thursday.

In the first career meeting between the players, Halep allowed the 98th-ranked Dodin to break her serve on six of seven opportunities she presented in the match, which lasted more than two hours.

Halep broke Dodin’s serve for the seventh time at 4-4 in the third set before closing it out.

Halep played in her third career Grand Slam final at the Australian Open in January, but has yet to secure a Grand Slam trophy.

Halep’s best Miami Open was reaching the 2015 semifinals.

Also Thursday, former No. 1 Angelique Kerber of Germany advanced to the third round with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Johanna Larsson of Sweden.

Kerber is 19-4 this year and has reached at least the quarterfinals of all five tournaments she’s played.

Kerber, the 2016 Australian Open and U.S. Open champion, won her first tournament since that U.S. Open at Sydney in January. She also reached the Australian Open semifinals.

Serena Williams loses in first round at Miami Open to Osaka

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KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) Serena Williams lost in the first round of the Miami Open on Wednesday, still rusty in her return from pregnancy and unable to overcome a tough draw against Naomi Osaka, who won 6-3, 6-2.

The 20-year-old Osaka, who earned her first career title Sunday at Indian Wells, showed no signs of letup and overpowered the erratic Williams. Osaka had the stronger serve, and in rallies wore down Williams working her from side to side.

The matchup worthy of a final came about because both players are unseeded. Osaka is ranked a career-best 22nd, while Williams’ ranking is 491st after her layoff of more than a year.

Another new mother and former No. 1, three-time Key Biscayne champion Victoria Azarenka, defeated Catherine Bellis 6-3, 6-0.

Williams has endured a first-round defeat only four other times, most recently at the 2012 French Open. The latest loss came at a tournament she has won a record eight times and considers her hometown event.

The match was the last for Williams at Key Biscayne, 90 miles south of her home in Palm Beach Gardens. The tournament is moving next year to the Miami Dolphins’ stadium, and Williams helped with the ceremonial groundbreaking Monday.

After her defeat, she left without speaking to the media.

Because of Williams’ ranking, she entered the draw as a wild card, and looked the part. She was a step slow to balls in the corners and often late with her swing, while she put barely half her first serves in play.

Osaka, who has both American and Japanese citizenship and lives in Fort Lauderdale, was playing her idol for the first time but didn’t seem a bit fazed. She improved to 14-4 this year.

Things may get tougher for her in the second round, when she’ll face No. 4-seeded Elina Svitolina.

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