Kerber, Konta win on another distracting day in Melbourne

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Angelique Kerber and Johanna Konta advanced to the Australian Open semifinals Wednesday on another day when the integrity of tennis was part of the tournament conversation.

The first Grand Slam of the season has been overshadowed from the start by media reports alleging that tennis authorities had failed to thoroughly investigate evidence of match-fixing.

On Wednesday, just as Kerber began her 6-3, 7-5 win over two-time champion Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, the governing bodies of tennis announced they will commission an independent review of their anti-corruption unit to restore “public confidence in our sport.”

In announcing the review, ATP Chairman Chris Kermode said the reports had “caused damage to the sport,” which compelled the major stakeholders in tennis – the International Tennis Federation, ATP and WTA tours, and the four Grand Slams – to take quick action to address the issue.

A BBC and Buzzfeed News report which coincided with the start of the Australian Open alleged 16 players – all ranked at some stage in the top 50 – had been flagged for being involved in matches where suspicious betting activity was detected. No players were identified.

Philip Brook, chairman of the Tennis Integrity Board, said while the reports “did not reveal anything new, it was widely written about and has caused damage to our sport.”

With that going on in the background, Konta went on court and beat Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai 6-4, 6-1 to become the first British woman since 1984 to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam.

It will be Konta’s first semifinal at a Grand Slam, and it ended a seven-match winning streak, including three in qualifying, by Zhang. The 27-year-old Zhang entered the Australian Open with an 0-14 record in Grand Slam matches.

“It will be my first match against her (Kerber),” Konta said. “She’s top 10. She’s an incredibly decorated and successful competitor and player. I’m just going to go out there and bring to the court what I can.”

Kerber went down a break in the second set before winning five consecutive games and saving five set points before beating two-time champion Azarenka, the result coming as a surprise despite the difference in seedings. No. 7 Kerber broke No. 14 Azarenka’s serve to end the match, her first win in seven matches against the Belarussian.

“When I was down 2-5, I was actually playing more aggressive,” Kerber said. “I think the key from this match was that I was playing and I won the match, she didn’t lose it.”

It ended a strong few weeks for Azarenka, who won the Brisbane International and hadn’t dropped a set.

“My footwork didn’t have enough, my shots didn’t have enough,” Azarenka said. “I felt I did a little bit too many unforced errors in the key moments.”

Six-time champion Serena Williams and No. 4-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska will meet in the other women’s semifinal on Thursday.

Two men’s quarterfinals were scheduled for later Wednesday – No. 2 Andy Murray plays David Ferrer and Gael Monfils takes on Milos Raonic.

The independent review announced in a news conference at Melbourne Park, earlier reported by The Associated Press, will be funded by the Tennis Integrity Board, which oversees the anti-corruption unit set up by the sport in 2008 to combat match-fixing. It will be led by Adam Smith, a London-based lawyer who is an expert in sports law.

Kermode acknowledged that the announcement of the review helped keep the topic of match-fixing prominent in and around the tournament action.

“It has been hard on the Australian Open, no question about it,” Kermode said. “Obviously the report was timed to hit at this point, try to create as big a story as possible. But (Australian Open organizers) have been unbelievably supportive of the actions we’ve taken. They agree we had to hit this head-on now even though it was during the championships.”

Sakkari through to Parma Open quarterfinals; Stephens loses

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PARMA, Italy — Top-seeded Maria Sakkari rallied past Arantxa Rus 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals of the Parma Ladies Open.

Sakkari, who accepted a late wild card to the red clay court tournament, was playing her first event since losing to Wang Xiyu in the second round of the U.S. Open.

The Greek player will next face Maryna Zanevska of Belgium after she eased past Dalma Galfi 6-1, 6-3.

Fourth-seeded Sloane Stephens of the United States, the 2017 U.S. Open champion, lost to Danka Kovinic 7-5, 2-6, 7-5.

Kovinic will face Jasmine Paolini in the quarterfinals after the Italian defeated compatriot Elisabetta Cocciaretto 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

There will be an American in the final eight, however, as Lauren Davis rallied to beat Sara Sorribes Tormo 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. Sorribes Tormo had eliminated second-seeded Martina Trevisan in straight sets in the opening round.

Davis will play Mayar Sherif after the Egyptian player defeated Simona Waltert 6-3, 7-6 (1).

Also, third-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania eased past Italian wild card Matilde Paoletti 6-4, 6-4 to set up a quarterfinal against sixth-seeded Ana Bogdan, who beat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Sorribes Tormo beats 2nd-seeded Trevisan at Parma Open

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PARMA, Italy — Sara Sorribes Tormo beat second-seeded Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-0 in the opening round of the Parma Ladies Open – marking the third consecutive first-round loss for this year’s French Open semifinalist.

Third-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu advanced when Viktoriya Tomova retired with Begu leading 7-5, 5-1.

Danka Kovinic beat Oceane Dodin 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and will next face 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Also on the red clay courts, Mayar Sherif of Egypt eliminated fifth-seeded Anna Bondar 7-5, 6-4; Elisabetta Cocciaretto defeated seventh-seeded Nuria Parrizas Diaz 7-5, 6-1; and Italian wild card Matilde Paoletti earned her first tour-level win by beating Romanian qualifier Gabriela Lee 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.