Novak Djokovic opens up over £110,000 bribe bid but is unaware of match fixing at the top level

Tennis rocked by allegations of widespread match-fixingATP rejects suggestions that match-fixing evidence was suppressed.

​It is almost a decade since world No.1 Novak Djokovic knocked back a £110,000 ($227,000) bribe to throw a match, but the 28-year-old insists he has no knowledge of match fixing still being prevalent at the top level.

After a report by the BBC and BuzzFeed revealed details of an investigation into match fixing involving international crime syndicates in Russia and Italy, tennis was again thrown under the microscope on Monday, with the ATP forced to deny a cover-up.

According to the report, authorities have been repeatedly warned about a core group of 16 players, all of whom have been ranked in the top 50 and half of which will play in this year’s Australian Open.

“From my knowledge and information about the match fixing or anything similar, there is nothing happening on the top level, as far as I know,” Djokovic said. “Challenger level, those tournaments, maybe, maybe not.”

While Djokovic was unable to shed light on the current situation facing the sport’s governing bodies, the Serbian opened up about his experience in 2006 when he was offered £110,000 bribe to lose a first round match in St Petersburg, a tournament he didn’t end up playing in.

“I was not approached directly. I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team,” Djokovic said.

“Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn’t even get to me, the guy that was trying to talk to me, he didn’t even get to me directly. There was nothing out of it. Unfortunately there were some, in those times, those days, rumours, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with. In the last six, seven years, I haven’t heard anything similar.

“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. 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.”

The approval of online bookmaker William Hill as a major sponsor of the grand slam has also been a discussion point.

While Djokovic is yet to form an opinion on the matter, he admits the sport is entering dangerous territory.

“It’s a fine line. Honestly it’s on a borderline, I would say,” Djokovic 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. One of the reasons why tennis is a popular and clean sport is because it has always valued its integrity … I don’t have yet the stand and clear opinion about that. I think it is a subject of discussion. We’ll see what happens.”

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.”

However, world No.1 Serena Williams insists she has never been exposed or has knowledge of it existing in the sport.

“Not that I’m aware of,” Williams said after her first-round victory against Camila Giorgi.

“When I’m playing, I can only answer for me, I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard. I think that as an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but, you know, historic. You know, 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.”

The ATP and Tennis Integrity Unit denied allegations they hid or overlooked evidence of match fixing related to international crime syndicates when they fronted a packed media contingent on the opening morning of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

BBC and BuzzFeed claim to have evidence of suspected rigging at major tournaments including Wimbledon, alleging the fixing was orchestrated by gambling syndicates that targeted prominent players in their hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered them $US50,000 ($A72,800) for each fix.

But ATP president Chris Kermode says information or suspicion alone isn’t enough, requiring hard evidence before they can prosecute those involved.

“The Tennis Integrity Unit and tennis authorities absolutely reject any evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn’t thoroughly being investigated,” Kermode said.

“And while the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information, and we always do. In its investigations, the Tennis Integrity Unit has to find evidence as opposed to information, suspicion, or hearsay. This is the key here, that it requires evidence.”

TIU director of integrity Nigel Willerton refused to confirm or deny whether there were players competing at this year’s Australian Open under investigation, describing it as unprofessional.

“Under the Tennis Anti-corruption Program, we can demand their phones and laptops and iPads,” Willerton said.

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