160118-Australian-Open-Gett
Getty Images

Match-fixing allegations overshadow Day 1 at Australian Open

1 Comment

MELBOURNE, Australia —¬†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 on Monday, 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.”

[MORE: Federer says it’s time to name players suspected of match-fixing]

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.

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

[MORE: Djokovic offers healthy choice entering Australian Open]

Djokovic was an up-and-coming player at the time, not winning the first 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.

Like Djokovic, Williams won three of the four major titles last season, but hadn’t finished a competitive match for months. She withdrew from the Hopman Cup because of inflammation in her knee, playing just one set in Perth.

“I haven’t played in a long time, but I have been playing for 30 years, so it’s kind of – I try to focus on that,” Williams said. “I was able to stay in it and stay calm today and I think that’s what matters most.”

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.”

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

Maria Sharapova, who lost to Williams in the final here last year and could meet her again in the quarterfinals, showed no signs of a left forearm injury that curtailed her preparations when she beat Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-3 in a night match. Genie Bouchard advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win against Alexandra Krunic.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Thai qualifier Luksika Kumkhum, avenging her upset loss in the first round here in 2014, and No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska beat Christina McHale 6-2, 6-3. Also advancing were No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro, No. 12 Belinda Bencic, No. 13. Robert Vinci and No. 23 Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Former No.1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki lost 1-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4 to Yulia Putintseva, continuing a downward spiral at Melbourne Park that has resulted in her exiting one round earlier each year since she reached the 2011 semifinals.

No. 24 Sloane Stephens, a semifinalist in 2013, lost 6-3, 6-3 to Chinese qualifier Wang Qiang.

Venus Williams tumbles out of Rogers Cup in Montreal

160729-Venus-Williams
Getty Images
Leave a comment

MONTREAL — Sixth-seeded Venus Williams tumbled out of the Rogers Cup in the third round Thursday night, falling 6-1, 6-7 (2), 6-3 to 10th-seeded Madison Keys in an all-American match.

Playing her last tournament match before the Rio Olympics, the 36-year-old Williams lost seven straight games before holding serve in the third game of the second set. After Williams rallied to tie the match, Keys found her serve in the third set, ending the match with her 12th ace.

The 21-year-old Keys won the Wimbledon tuneup event in Birmingham, England, this year for her second WTA Tour title, then reached the fourth round at Wimbledon. She’ll face 16th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia in the quarterfinals.

Williams beat Barbora Strycova – the Czech player Keys topped in the Birmingham final – on Wednesday in her first match since losing to Britain’s Johanna Konta on Sunday in the Bank of the West Classic final. Against Keys, she struggled with her serve.

“Her first serve was definitely slower than normal,” Keys said. “But it was funny, her second serve was a lot slower, but because of the court it was bouncing a lot higher than normal. So while her first serve was a little easier to return, her second serve was really tough.”

Pavlyuchenkova beat fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

“It’s going to be a tough match,” Keys said about Pavlyuchenkova. “She’s always tricky because she definitely fights till the end and she’s going to hit a lot of winners.”

Pavlyuchenkova let two match points slip away while leading 5-4 in the second set and then lost the game on a double fault. She rebounded in the third set to extend her longest run at the hardcourt event.

“I think I’m still recovering from the second set,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “Basically, I thought I had the match in my pocket and lost it, so I’m happy with the mental side.”

Radwanska won in 2014 in Montreal.

The 15th-seeded Konta beat American Varvara Lepchenko 6-3, 6-2 to set up a quarterfinal against Slovakia’s Kristina Kucova, a 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 winner over Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard in the late match.

Bouchard was penalized a point for racket abuse in the third set as she struggled to hit the lines to the disappointment of what had been a festive center-court crowd at Uniprix Stadium.

“I played some high-quality tennis this week – I can’t forget those two matches – but two matches is not a whole tournament,” Bouchard said. “I need to learn how to keep it going and deal with the pressure. I just felt I maybe panicked a little bit, tried to finish the points too soon.”

Second-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany beat Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4.

“I’m still improving to playing better tennis, being more aggressive and just going for it,” Kerber said. “I think today I was a little bit too excited to going for it. This is sometimes, I think, the problem.”

Kerber will face Russia’s Daria Kasatkina, a 7-5, 6-3 2 winner over seventh-seeded Roberta Vinci of Italy 7-5, 6-3.

Fifth-seeded Simona Halep of Romania, a finalist last year in Toronto, beat 14th-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3. Pliskova, the WTA Tour ace leader, had only five in the match.

“I knew that it’s going to be tough because I don’t get rhythm from her,” Halep said. “You never know what to expect for the next point, so there’s a bit of tension. I just had to stay patient for every ball and to keep fighting because I knew that if I stay there for every ball, she can miss more than me.”

Halep will face ninth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova, a 7-6 (2), 6-3 winner over 12th-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic.

Novak Djokovic survives scare, tops Gilles Muller in Toronto

160728-novak-djokovic
Getty Images
Leave a comment

TORONTO (AP) Top-ranked Novak Djokovic survived a scare to beat Gilles Muller 7-5, 7-6 (3) on Wednesday in the Rogers Cup, his final event before the Rio Olympics.

“I actually think that Toronto is a great way for me to prepare for the Olympic Games and what’s coming up after that,” Djokovic said. “But also, you know, I enjoy my time in this tournament that I always love playing.”

The Serbian star noted that he had extra time off after falling in the third round at Wimbledon. The Rogers Cup rotates between Toronto and Montreal, with the women playing in Montreal this week.

“I enjoy Canada, both cities, Toronto and Montreal, and the past results in history show that I have a good time on Canadian soil, so I try to get the best out of it,” said Djokovic, the tournament winner in 2007, 2011 and 2012.

Djokovic struggled against Muller in his first hard-court match since March, both with his serves and his short game. Ultimately, unforced errors were Muller’s undoing, with both sets easily in reach of the unseeded player from Luxembourg.

“Gilles Muller is a very difficult player to play against in quick conditions,” Djokovic said. “He takes away the time of the opponent. He serves and volleys second serve a lot, as well, which he’s one of the rare guys that does that. He likes to play quick, and I think the warm day like today played a lot in his favor.”

Djokovic will face qualifier Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in the third round.

Third-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan downed American Dennis Novikov 6-4, 7-5; and fourth-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada beat Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun 6-3, 6-3.

American qualifier Ryan Harrison outlasted ninth-seeded countryman John Isner 7-6 (3), 6-7 (4), 6-4, and 10th-seeded Gael Monfils of France topped Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, Canada, 7-6 (6), 6-0. Monfils won the Citi Open on Sunday in Washington.