Melbourne, Australia — For the second time in three days, Novak Djokovic won a match at the Australian Open and was confronted by questions about match-fixing in the sport.
The five-time champion had just beaten 19-year-old French wild-card entry Quentin Halys, 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3), in the second round on Wednesday night — his 34th win in his last 35 matches at Melbourne Park — when his news conference veered to questions about the issue that has overshadowed the start of the season’s first major.
After his first-round win, on the day when the BBC and BuzzFeed News published reports alleging match-fixing had gone unchecked in tennis, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic recalled when a member of his support team was approached with an offer to throw a match in Russia in 2007. That approach didn’t reach him directly, he said, and was rejected immediately.
After his second-round win, he was asked about an Italian newspaper report casting doubt over his performance in a match against Fabrice Santoro in Paris in 2007.
Djokovic said the speculation was getting out of control.
“What (is there) to say? I’ve lost that match. I don’t know if you’re trying to create a story about that match or for that matter any of the matches of the top players losing in the early rounds. I think it’s just absurd,” Djokovic said. “It’s not true.
“My response is that there’s always going to be, especially these days when there is a lot of speculation — this is now the main story in tennis, in sports world — there’s going to be a lot of allegations,” Djokovic said. “I said everything I needed to say two days ago. Until somebody comes out with the real proof and evidence, it’s only a speculation for me.”
Djokovic lost to Santoro 6-3, 6-2 in the second round of the Paris Masters indoor tournament in October 2007. Djokovic, who had two wisdom teeth removed earlier that month, said after the loss to Santoro that he was not fully fit because he was still taking medication.
The BBC and BuzzFeed reports said 16 players had been repeatedly flagged to tennis authorities for suspicious performances, including a Grand Slam winner, and half of them were at this year’s Australian Open.
Djokovic has said he didn’t believe any elite players were involved. Roger Federer agreed, and said people making the accusations should name names.
Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam champion, tweeted: “We need facts, not suppositions.”
“This really casts a very dark shadow on our sport right now,” Mary Jo Fernandez said on ESPN, as part of a panel discussion Wednesday on the controversy.
“Hopefully because the world is watching, something will be done about it. We need to flag who these players were,” said Fernandez, a three-time Grand Slam finalist and winner of two Olympic gold medals.
Federer was among the first to demand more information: “I would love to hear names,” the Swiss star said Monday at a postmatch news conference.
Referring specifically to the claim about a former Grand Slam winner, he asked, “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.”
Andre Agassi says match-fixing in tennis “never even made my radar” while he was on tour.