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Australian Open: Kerber, Konta win on another distracting day

Melbourne: Angelique Kerber and Johanna Konta advanced to the Australian Open semifinals today 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.

Angelique Kerber
Angelique Kerber. Pic/ AFP

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 and no specifics were published, and many critics believed the data was based on matches that had already examined.

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 1983 to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam. It will be Konta's first semifinal at a Grand Slam, and it ended Zhang's seven-match winning streak, including three in qualifying.

"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." The The 27-year-old Zhang entered the Australian Open with a 0-14 record in Grand Slam matches.

Zhang says her two weeks in Melbourne should result in a big rankings boost that could help her get into the Rio Olympics for China.

"In my heart I feel like I've won this tournament because I've won seven matches," Zhang said. "It didn't matter winning or losing today."

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."

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