MELBOURNE • On a day of extended drama and fevered speculation in the tennis world, Novak Djokovic spoke in depth for the first time about being offered US$200,000 (S$288,000) to fix a match in 2006, though he vehemently defended his sport against accusers who allege match-fixing is widespread.
Djokovic and Serena Williams, the top-ranked players in the men's and women's games, were adamant yesterday that there was no wrongdoing beyond minor incidents on the edges of the sport, and pointed out that no hard evidence had been produced.
Swiss legend Roger Federer, however, argued that there is enough doubt to prompt a stronger response from the authorities.
"It's like I can always train more, there's always more you can do," he said. "So a story like this is only going to increase the pressure. Hopefully there's more funding to it.
"Same as doping. You've got to be super aggressive in both areas. 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."
The BBC, which conducted a long investigation in company with Buzzfeed News, has claimed an unnamed Grand Slam winner was under suspicion, and that eight players who have been investigated during the past decade are in the main draw at the Australian Open.
They say they have a "cache of documents" stretching back to 2007 that expose "widespread suspected match-fixing at the top level of world tennis, including at Wimbledon. Over the last decade, 16 players who have ranked in the top 50 have been repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit over suspicions they have thrown matches".
After winning his opening match, Djokovic said: "Of course, there is no room for any match-fixing or corruption in our sport. We're trying to keep it as clean as possible. We have, I think, a sport that has evolved, and have upgraded our programmes and authorities to deal with these particular cases.
"I don't think a shadow is cast over our sport. People are talking about names, guessing who these players are. But there's no real proof or evidence yet of any active players, for that matter. As long as it's like that, it's just speculation."
He spoke too about an incident in 2006 when it was alleged that he had been offered US$200,000 to throw a first-round match in St Petersburg, Russia - a tournament he did not participate in eventually.
"I was not approached directly," he said. "I was approached through people that were working with me at that time. Of course, we threw it away right away."
Before what might or might not be explosive revelations on the BBC tonight, there was a sense after the first day of the Australian Open that the only way these reheated claims will damage the sport is if players are named.
For most of the day, interest switched from the courts to the press conference room, where administrators and players were quizzed as if on a conveyor belt of suspicion and doubt. The most intriguing aspect of the allegations was the claim that a Grand Slam champion was involved.
Did the scattergun speculation damage players across the board?
"No, not for me," former US Open champion Marin Cilic said. "I know I am very far away from betting even though it is very popular in Croatia. A lot of people like to gamble, but I know I am safe, that I don't do any betting."
Williams said that she had never heard of matches being fixed.
She said: "When I'm playing, I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard. As an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but historic. If that's (match-fixing) going on, I don't know about it. I'm kind of sometimes in a little bit of a bubble."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS,AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE