MELBOURNE • Fernando Verdasco earned the right to face Israeli Dudi Sela today in the second round of the Australian Open, following his shock win over 14-time Major champion Rafael Nadal.
Yet, as thunderstorms threaten to delay the action in Melbourne Park today, a cloud has been cast over the world No. 45's sporting integrity. No sooner had Verdasco celebrated a huge win on Tuesday than the Spaniard faced reporters with questions over match-fixing suspicions.
In the fifth question of his post-match press conference, he was asked if he was aware that there is an article on the Internet which shows unusual betting patterns surrounding the first sets of several matches that he was involved in over the last year. It was also put to him that the article suggests that he might not have been trying his hardest in those sets.
"Yes. There is many things that they said about someone," the 32-year-old responded. "You know, at the end we know that all that is out there and we will fight like to change that. But is hard, no?
"At the end there is many people in this world, and is impossible to control everyone. But, you know, we are trying - like if for me was it, I would take out the betting. But I can't take it out. So, you know, I don't have that power. We are trying to fight against that. I cannot really say anything more, no?"
Verdasco, who has six singles titles and reached a career-high No. 7 ranking in 2009, added that he had never been approached to fix a result. His denial comes after a bombshell report alleging widespread corruption in tennis surfaced at the start of the Australian Open on Monday.
World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was also forced to deny an Italian media report that said he deliberately lost a match in 2007.
The Serb, who beat French teenager Quentin Halys 6-1, 6-2, 7-6 (7-3) to advance to the third round, was asked about a report in Italian newspaper Tuttosport that he had deliberately lost to now-retired French player Fabrice Santoro at the Paris Masters.
"It's not true," he said with a shrug and shake of his head. "What it is to say? I've lost that match.
"Anybody can 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.
"You can pick any match that you like that the top player lost and just create a story out of it."
The BBC and BuzzFeed reported that a "core group" of 16 players who reached the top 50 in the past decade, including Grand Slam title winners, had repeatedly caused suspicion but never faced action.
The report also claimed that one top-50 player competing in the Australian Open is suspected of repeatedly fixing his first set.
According to British paper the Mirror, in Verdasco's 29 matches between the Monte Carlo Masters in April and the end of last season, he won the first set just five times. Analysts also noted that in four singles matches - one at the US Open last year - and two doubles matches, rapid swings of odds suggested heavy bets coming in against him, reported the Telegraph.
Speculation has been swirling over the identities of the players under suspicion - a total of eight of whom are reportedly in Melbourne. No players have been named yet, with Verdasco understood to be the first to address allegations against him head on.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS