In the wake of Buzzfeed News/BBC’s investigative report detailing evidence of widespread match fixing in the upper ranks of professional tennis, the No. 1 men’s player in the world has added weight to the allegations.
Novak Djokovic was asked Monday about an incident early in his career when his team was approached with a proposal to fix a tournament match in exchange for $200,000. The match was supposed to take place in 2007 in St. Petersburg, Russia, but Djokovic said his team "threw out the bribe" and he ultimately declined to play in the tournament.
"I was approached through people that were working with me at that time," Djokovic said. “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.”
Djokovic spoke of the gambling reports in Melbourne on Monday, where he and most other top-ranked players are competing for Australian Open bragging rights this month.
“For me, that's an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport, honestly,” Djokovic said. “I don't support it. I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis."
Sunday’s investigative report claims that about 16 top-ranked players appear to have been affiliated with gambling syndicates out of Italy and Russia.
Troublingly, some players in question have even won Grand Slam tournament titles -- meaning that the match-fixing has indeed made its way onto even the biggest sports stages. The report did not list the implicated players.
For me, that's an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport, honestly. Novak Djokovic
The report also alleges that authorities have “shelved” and entirely disregarded evidence of such activity, a claim that the Association of Professional Tennis Players emphatically denied Monday.
“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,” said head of the Association of Professional Tennis Players Chris Kermode.
Asked about the allegations, Serena Williams and Roger Federer both expressed dismay while distancing themselves from any illicit activity, with Federer citing the need for solid evidence if professional tennis hopes to move forward and clean up this international mess.
"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 so all over the place. It's nonsense to answer something that is pure speculation. Like I said, it's super serious and it's super important to maintain the integrity of our sport. So how high up does it go?"
Williams similarly shrugged her shoulders at any suggestion that she might have knowledge of the situation, brushing off the idea that she’d strive for anything short of perfection.
"I can only answer for me. I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard," she said. "I think that as an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but historic. If that's going on, I don't know about it. You know, I'm kind of sometimes in a little bit of a bubble."
Djokovic, Williams and Federer all won their first-round Australian Open matches, and will likely field more questions about these match-fixing allegations as they move through their respective brackets.
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