Melbourne: As allegations of corruption and match-fixing rocked the tennis world on Monday, World number one Novak Djokovic made a shocking revelation saying he was approached to fix a match earlier in his career.
The BBC and BuzzFeed claimed 16 players who had reached the top 50 in the past decade, including Grand Slam champions, had been repeatedly suspected of fixing matches for betting syndicates. The report prompted a swift denial from authorities that any evidence of match-fixing had been suppressed, as well as speculation over the identities of the players involved.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic celebrates after victory in his men's singles match against South Korea's Chung Hyeon on day one of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Monday. Pic/AFP
Speaking to the media after his opening round win over South Korea's Chung Hyeon at the Australian Open, Djokovic played down the report but he also said he was targeted in 2007 to throw a first-round match at St Petersburg.
"I was not approached directly. I was approached through people that were working with me at that time," he told reporters in Melbourne.
"Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn't even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk to me, didn't even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it. "Unfortunately in those times (there were) rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with.
"In the last six, seven years, I haven't heard anything similar. I personally was never approached directly, so I have nothing more to say about that."
the 28-year-old was reportedly offered $200,000 to throw the match, in an incident which gives an insight into the murky world of match-fixing -- which the Serb called "a crime in sport".
"It (approach) made me feel terrible because I don't want to be anyhow linked to this kind of thing," he said.
"Somebody may call it an opportunity. For me, that's an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport, honestly. I don't support it.
"I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis.
"I always have been taught and have been surrounded with people that had nurtured and respected the sport's values. That's the way I've grown up. "Fortunately for me, I didn't need to get directly involved in these particular situations."
The 10-time Grand Slam champion added that it was "borderline" to have a betting company sponsoring this year's Australian Open, a move which has caused disquiet in some quarters.
"It's a fine line. Honestly it's on a borderline, I would say," he 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," the Serb said.
"One of the reasons why tennis is a popular and clean sport is because it has always valued its integrity."
Djokovic added: "I know that there is also many betting companies that on the websites are using the names, the brands, images of tournaments and players and matches in order to profit from that. "Tennis hasn't been really getting the piece of that cake, if you know what I mean. It's hard to say. I don't have yet the stand and clear opinion about that.
World number two Roger Federer also said it was difficult to guess the significance of the report, but he welcomed the extra pressure that would now focus on match-fixers.
"There's more pressure on these people now maybe because of this story, which is a good thing," Federer said.
No names have yet been mentioned but 17-time grand slam champion Federer would like to see an end to the speculation.
"I would like to hear the name. I would love to hear names. Then at least it's concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it," Federer told reporters after his 6-2 6-1 6-2 first-round victory over Nikoloz Basilashvili.
"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? The higher it goes, the more surprised I would be, no doubt about it. Not about people being approached, but just people doing it in general.
"I just think there's no place at all for these kind of behaviours and things in our sport. I have no sympathy for those people."
Asked if tennis authorities could do more to prevent fixing, Federer said: "You can always do more. It's like I can always train more. There's always more you can do.
"So a story like this is only going to increase the pressure. Hopefully there's more funding to it. That's about it.
"Same as doping. You have to be super aggressive in both areas, no doubt about it."
Federer added: "Since we have the Integrity Unit, it puts more pressure on them that a story like this broke again.
"It's just really important that all the governing bodies and all the people involved take it very seriously, that the players know about it. There's more pressure on these people now maybe because of this story, which is a good thing."
Also in 2007, Andy Murray spoke out over the presence of match fixing in the sport, saying: "It's pretty disappointing for all the players but everyone knows it goes on."
Other players seemed unaware of any problems with corruption, with both Serena Williams and Japan's Kei Nishikori saying they hadn't noticed anything untoward. "I think that... as an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but, you know, historic. If that's (match-fixing) going on, I don't know about it," Williams said after her first-round victory against Camila Giorgi.
Unaware of match-fixing in tennis: Sharapova
Melbourne: Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova said on Monday she hoped match-fixing does not exist in the sport of tennis, which to her personally always "meant a lot more than money."
The BBC reported earlier on Monday that over the last decade players, who had been ranked among the world’s top 50, including winners of Grand Slam titles, were involved in match-fixing, reports Tass.
Russia's Maria Sharapova blows a kiss to spectators after victory in her women's singles match against Japan's Hibino Nao on day one of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on Monday. Pic/AFP
Sharapova on Monday won her first round singles match of the Australian Open here as she defeated emerging 21-year-old Japanese player Nao Hibino 6-1, 6-3.
Asked in an interview with the organisers of the tournament after the match whether Sharapova believed that match-fixing existed in tennis, the Russian player said "honestly, I really hope not."
"I mean, to me the sport itself has always meant a lot more than money. I know that the more successful you are and the more matches you win, the more prize money, the more money you will receive," she said.
"But ultimately that's never been my personal driving factor in the sport," she said. "There's just so much more on the line. There's the competitiveness. There's the challenge of being better. There's playing in front of thousands of people, playing you against somebody across the net and you trying to win that match."
"When you're out there, it's not about money," Sharapova, the winner of the 2008 Australian Open, added.
The documents obtained by the BBC "show the enquiry found betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily making hundreds of thousands of pounds betting on matches investigators thought to be fixed. Three of these matches were at Wimbledon."
The investigation examined suspicious betting activity after a game involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo.
Both players were cleared of violating any rules but the investigation developed into a much wider inquiry looking into a web of gamblers linked to top-level players, according to the BBC.
The sole tennis players caught in match-fixing by now are Daniel Kollerer from Austria and Alexandros Jakupovic from Greece. The Austrian has become the first tennis player banned for life for attempting to fix at least three matches between October 2009 and July 2010.
In late November 2011, Kollerer applied to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to challenge the decision made by the ATP and the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
However, the appeal was rejected in March 2012. Jakupovic was banned for life in mid-December 2015 on five counts related to match-fixing.
Kollerer was ranked 55th in the world in October 2009 while Jakupovic’s best was reaching the 464th position in 2009.