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Match-fixing allegations overshadow Day 1 at Australian Open

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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.

Djokovic could face Federer in Wimbledon semifinals

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 28:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia is congratulated after winning in his semi final match against Roger Federer (L) of Switzerland during day 11 of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 28, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)
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LONDON (AP) Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are used to facing each other in the Wimbledon final. It won’t happen for a third straight year, though.

Federer, the seven-time champion seeded No. 3, was placed in Djokovic’s top half of the Wimbledon draw on Friday. That means top-ranked Djokovic could face Federer in the semifinals as he bids for a fifth consecutive major title and the third leg of a calendar year Grand Slam.

The second-seeded Andy Murray got a more favorable draw, with No. 4 Stan Wawrinka placed in the bottom half as his potential semifinal opponent.

In the women’s draw, defending champion and six-time winner Serena Williams could have a quarterfinal matchup against Roberta Vinci, the Italian who stunned her in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last year and ended her bid for a calendar year sweep of all four major titles.

Djokovic has beaten Murray in the last two Grand Slam finals – the Australian Open and French Open – and goes into the grass-court tournament starting on Monday as a strong favorite for a 13th major championship. Another title would put him only four behind Federer’s record of 17.

Possible men’s quarterfinals: Djokovic vs. Milos Raonic, Federer vs. Kei Nishikori, Wawrinka vs. Dominic Thiem, and Murray vs. Richard Gasquet.

Djokovic, a three-time Wimbledon champion who holds all four Grand Slam titles, will play Britain’s James Ward in the first round.

Murray, the 2013 Wimbledon winner, will face fellow British player Liam Broady in round one.

Federer, playing in his 18th Wimbledon, will open against Argentina’s Guido Pella.

Djokovic could face American Sam Querrey in the third round and David Ferrer in the fourth. Raonic, a big-serving Canadian working with John McEnroe, could provide another stiff test in the quarterfinals.

Djokovic is the first man to hold all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously since Rod Laver in 1969, and the first to win the first two majors of the year since Jim Courier in 1992.

Murray defeated Djokovic in straight sets in the Wimbledon final three years ago, but has not won a major since. He won the Queen’s Club grass-court tournament last week for a fifth straight time and has Ivan Lendl back as a coach.

Wawrinka could meet former semifinalist Juan Martin del Potro in the second round. The free-swinging Argentine has been beset by injuries and will be making his first appearance at Wimbledon since 2013.

Perhaps the most intriguing first-round men’s matchup has young Austrian star Dominic Thiem vs. 32-year-old German Florian Mayer. It will be a rematch of their semifinal last week in Halle, which Mayer won in straight sets.

In the women’s draw, Williams could face third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals, with French Open winner Garbine Muguruza in line to play No. 4 Angelique Kerber.

Potential women’s quarterfinals: Williams vs. Vinci, Radwanska vs. Belinda Bencic, Kerber vs. Simona Halep, and Muguruza vs. Venus Williams.

Serena Williams will open her bid for a seventh Wimbledon title against a qualifier or lucky loser to be determined.

Since losing to Vinci at the U.S. Open, Williams fell to Kerber in the Australian Open final and to Muguruza in the French Open final. She is one away from equaling Steffi Graf’s Open era record of 22 Grand Slam titles.

Williams’ possible route to the final could see her face Christina McHale, Kristina Mladenovic and former top-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova before meeting Vinci and Radwanska.

Muguruza, who lost to Williams in last year’s final, has an intriguing opener against Camila Giorgi.

Sky names strong team for Chris Froome at Tour de France

LA RAVOIRE, FRANCE - JUNE 10:  A detailed image of Chris Froome's lightweight climbing shorts at the start of stage five of the 2016 Criterium du Dauphine  a 140km stage from La Ravoire to Vaujany, on June 10, 2016 in La Ravoire, France.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
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PARIS — Defending champion Chris Froome will enjoy the support of a Team Sky squad featuring strong climbers at the Tour de France next month.

Aiming to win cycling’s showpiece race for a third time, Froome will be joined by Sergio Henao, Vasil Kiryienka, Mikel Landa, Mikel Nieve, Wout Poels, Luke Rowe, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas on the roads of France this summer.

The Tour starts on July 2 and finishes on the Champs-Elysees three weeks later.

“I feel in good shape coming into the race this year and am fortunate to have a strong team around me, both on and off the bike,” said Froome, the 2013 and 2015 champion.

The 3,519-kilometer race features 28 mountain passes this year, as well as two individual time trials, a route that perfectly suits all-rounder Froome.

Among those expected to play a key role in protecting the British rider in the Pyrenees and the Alps are Henao, Landa, Poels, Nieve and Thomas.

Henao helped Froome to success at both Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine this season and will be making his debut at the Tour. The Colombian was withdrawn from racing by Team Sky in April after concerns over his biological data emerged, but he has since been cleared by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

Landa, who was the Team Sky leader at the Giro d’Italia but was forced to withdraw because of illness, will also compete in his first Tour.

Poels played an important role last year at l’Alpe d’Huez to help Froome resist Nairo Quintana’s attacks while the talented Thomas is widely regarded as a future Grand Tour winner.

“Every Tour is different, so that means choosing the team we believe is best equipped to deal with the many different challenges of this race,” Team Sky director Dave Brailsford said. “We have selected a talented group of riders with Chris as the leader once again. I know they will do everything they can to help him try to win yellow.”