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Novak Djokovic says report that he purposely lost match 'absurd'

MELBOURNE, Australia -- No. 1-ranked Novak Djokovic was put on the spot Wednesday during an Australian Open postmatch news conference, where a reporter told him an Italian newspaper had just reported that he "wanted to lose" a match in Paris in 2007.

"You can pick any match that you like that the top player lost, and just create a story out of it," Djokovic said.

"This is now the main story in tennis, in the sports world, there's going to be a lot of allegations," he said, calling it "just speculation" and saying "it is not true."

Tuttosport reported Wednesday that Djokovic lost on purpose in 2007 to France's Fabrice Santoro, ranked 39th in the world at that time, but the newspaper did not offer evidence or cite sources in its report. Djokovic said he remembered the match because he had teeth extracted prior to the tournament and wasn't feeling his best.

"What it is to say? I've lost that match," Djokovic said Wednesday. "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."

The match-fixing allegations have dominated conversation at Melbourne. Roger Federer said he wants to know names of those suspected of fixing matches, a call echoed by players, commentators and fans. One former pro described the growing scandal as a "major wake-up call for the world of tennis."

Many called for clarity, saying the public and players have a right to know who is suspected of cheating. Others warned that the scandal has the potential to damage the reputation of tennis, just like doping or corruption scandals have hurt professional cycling, track and field, baseball and soccer.

Martina Navratilova, the 18-time Grand Slam champion, tweeted: "We need facts, not suppositions."

The scandal broke Monday when the BBC and BuzzFeed News published reports -- timed for the start of the Australian Open -- alleging that tennis authorities have ignored widespread evidence of match-fixing involving 16 tennis players who have ranked in the top 50 over the past decade.

BuzzFeed titled its story, "The Tennis Racket," and said that half of those 16, including a Grand Slam winner, were at this year's Australian Open.

"This really casts a very dark shadow on our sport right now," ESPN's Mary Jo Fernandez said, 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, winner of two Grand Slam women's doubles titles and 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."

Until now, the average fan may have had little idea that tennis is one of the most gambled-on sports in the world, with bookmakers actively taking bets midmatch. Between matches at the Australian Open, tennis experts have explained the mechanics of match-fixing, spelling out that it doesn't necessarily mean throwing an entire match, but could involve taking money just to double-fault or lose a set.

"We in the tennis world have all heard the stories about this going on at the low levels. No one knew it was happening at the Grand Slams," ESPN's Patrick McEnroe said. "Where there's smoke, there's fire. This is a major, major wake-up call for the world of tennis."

The BBC and BuzzFeed report prompted an immediate news conference by tennis' governing bodies Monday in Melbourne Park, where representatives denied allegations that any evidence about match-fixing had been suppressed. Officials noted that the sport's anti-corruption division, the Tennis Integrity Unit, has pursued 18 disciplinary cases that resulted in life bans from the sport for five players and one official. It was set up in 2008, after a surge of suspicious betting activity in tennis.

The problem for investigators, they said, is that match-fixing is very difficult to prove.

Many fans have also been shocked to learn that some of the sport's top players have been approached and offered big money to throw matches.

Djokovic confirmed earlier in the week he was offered money to intentionally throw a match. The 10-time Grand Slam champion said that he was not directly approached but members of his support team were offered the money in Russia in 2007, an offer the player said was immediately rejected.

During a break in commentating for ESPN, Chris Evert said the scandal had deeply affected her.

"I have been so sad about this the last few days," the 18-time Grand Slam winner said. "We as tennis players have always been so proud about the integrity of our sport."

"Hopefully the truth will come out," she said.

Andy Roddick thinks it will. The 2003 U.S. Open winner tweeted that he and another retired pro have been engaged in a guessing game: "Text I got from another former tour pro 'we should see how many of the 16 betting guys we can name. I think I got at least 8-9.'"

The names are bound to come out, Roddick said in another tweet: "In the age of leaks and social media, I don't think secrets exist."

Information from The Associated Press was included in this report.

Related Video
Djokovic refutes report he threw match
Djokovic refutes report he threw match
Novak Djokovic responds to a report that he purposely lost a match in 2007, calling it "just speculation" and "absurd."

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sportsespntuttosportscandalmatch fixingnovak djokoviccheatingtennis
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