Tennis stars ask: Why are courtside gambling sponsors OK?

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Andy Murray finds it “hypocritical” that tennis authorities are trying to stamp out match-fixing run by gambling syndicates but have partnered with a major gambling company that is now advertising on the Australian Open’s show courts.

The two issues are separate but have collided at this year’s Australian Open, where tennis was overshadowed for a second day Tuesday by allegations that match-fixing has gone unchecked in tennis.

The controversy ignited Monday when the BBC and Buzzfeed News published reports alleging that the sport’s highest authorities had ignored evidence of match-fixing involving 16 players who had been ranked in the top 50 over the past decade. The report said that half of those players were at this year’s Australian Open but did not name names.

The governing bodies for tennis have presented a unified front in rejecting the claims, and highlighted the fact that five players and an official had received life bans after investigations from the Tennis Integrity Unit which was set up in 2008.

No. 2-ranked Murray and other top players, including Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, say authorities could be doing more to combat the problem. The players said they have known the issue existed but they doubt any top players have been involved.

[MORE: Federer wants names named in match-fixing scandal]

Murray said the sport was sending mixed messages by allowing betting company William Hill to become one of the Australian Open’s sponsor’s this year and advertise on the tournament’s three main show courts.

For the first time at Melbourne Park, electronic advertising boards at Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and Hisense Arena display the name “William Hill” during breaks in play.

“I’m not really pro that,” Murray, a four-time finalist in Melbourne said Tuesday, after advancing to the second round.

“I think it’s a little bit hypocritical,” Murray added. “You know, because I don’t believe the players are allowed to be sponsored by betting companies, but the tournaments are. I don’t really understand how it all works. I think it’s a bit strange.”

A day earlier, No. 1-ranked Djokovic called it “borderline.”

“It’s a fine line. 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.”

[MORE: Nadal suffers shocking loss in first round of Australian Open]

Tennis officials defended the partnership with gambling sponsors and provided an explanation that one Australian paper, The Age, called “positive topspin.”

ATP Chairman Chris Kermode said that betting on sports was “a legal pastime” – not to be confused with corrupt forms of gambling like match-fixing.

“The distinction to make is that betting itself is not an illegal pastime and many people do bet on sport. What we are talking about is corruption,” he told a news conference Monday called to reject claims that any evidence on match-fixing had been suppressed or gone unchecked.

Kermode added that legitimate betting agencies could even help tennis authorities to spot corruption, since stamping out illegal gambling benefits them too.

Fernando Verdasco joined the conversation, after staging the tournament’s biggest upset so far by beating Rafael Nadal in a first-round five-setter Tuesday.

The No. 45-ranked Verdasco was still basking in his victory over the 14-time Grand Slam winner when asked, in English, at his post-match news conference about the match-fixing allegations.

He said he did not approve of gambling on tennis matches.

“I would take out the betting. But I can’t take it out,” Verdasco said. “We are trying to fight against that.”

For No. 13 Milos Raonic the focus on gambling was an unwanted distraction.

“Tennis is a beautiful (sport),” said Raonic, after winning his first-round match. He called it unfortunate that “the attention of the first Grand Slam of the year is more on that than the Australian Open.”

U.S. sweeps Uzbekistan, advances to group stage in Davis Cup

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The United States swept its way into the group stage of the Davis Cup Finals, getting the winning point in a 4-0 victory over Uzbekistan from the doubles team of Rajeev Ram and Austin Krajicek.

They beat Sergey Fomin and Sanjar Fayziev 6-2, 6-4, after Tommy Paul and Mackenzie McDonald had won singles matches in Tashkent.

Ram is No. 3 in the ATP Tour doubles rankings and partnered with Joe Salisbury to win the last two U.S. Open men’s doubles titles. But the Americans opted not to use Ram last year in the final round, when they dropped the doubles match in a 2-1 defeat against Italy in the quarterfinals.

Krajicek was making his Davis Cup debut, having reached No. 9 in the doubles rankings late last year.

“They had five great days of preparation, and as anticipated they came out really sharp and got the early break in the first set. And after that it was like two freight trains, there was no stopping them,” interim captain David Nainkin said.

Denis Kudla then beat Amir Milushev 6-4, 6-4.

The winners of the 12 qualifiers being held this weekend advance to the Davis Cup Finals group stage in September, along with reigning champion Canada, 2022 runner-up Australia and wild-card recipients Italy and Spain.

Eight teams will advance to the closing matches of the Davis Cup Finals scheduled for Nov. 21-26 in Malaga, Spain.

In other matches:

France 3, Hungary 2: On indoor hard courts in Tatabanya, Hungary, Ugo Humbert won it for the French with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Fabian Marozsan. Adrian Mannarino had forced the deciding match by beating Marton Fucsovics 7-6 (6), 6-2.

Serbia 4, Norway 0: On indoor hard courts in Oslo, the visitors, playing without top-ranked Novak Djokovic, put away the match when Filip Krajinovic and Nikola Cacic edged Viktor Durasovic and Herman Hoeyeraal 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Hamad Medjedovic then outlasted Durasovic 6-4, 6-7, 10-4.

Sweden 3, Bosnia 1: On indoor hard courts in Stockholm, Mikael Ymer sent the hosts through by beating Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

Lesia Tsurenko to face Zhu Lin in Thailand Open final

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HUA HIN, Thailand — Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine reached her first final in four years after the top-seeded Bianca Andreescu retired with a shoulder injury during their semifinal match at the Thailand Open.

Tsurenko, in search of her fifth WTA title, was leading the 2019 U.S. Open champion 7-5, 4-0 when the Canadian stopped playing.

The former world No. 23 fought from 3-5 down to take the first set and reeled off eight straight games before Andreescu retired with a right shoulder problem.

“Bianca is such an amazing player. She is capable of hitting all kinds of shots and gave so much trouble today,” said the 33-year-old Tsurenko, now ranked 136th. “But I was just fighting and I told myself positive things that I can do it. Unfortunately, she had to retire.”

The Ukrainian last lifted a WTA trophy in Acapulco in 2018 and hasn’t been to a final since Brisbane in 2019.

She will face Zhu Lin of China in the final.

“She had some good wins in the Australian Open,” Tsurenko said. “She is one of the dangerous players in this tournament. She is going to give a good fight.”

In the all-Chinese semifinal earlier, Zhu benefited from a barrage of unforced errors from Wang Xinyu and prevailed 6-2, 6-4 for her first WTA final.

The world No. 54 player, who reached the last 16 at the Australian Open in January, relied on her solid baseline game to force errors.

“It was very windy, so I tried to be patient and keep my first serves in,” said the 29-year-old Zhu, who will team up with Wang in the doubles final against Hao-Ching Chan and Fang-Hsien Wu of Taiwan.