Novak Djokovic has vehemently denied allegations in an Italian newspaper he had deliberately lost a match against the French player Fabrice Santoro at the Paris Masters in 2007.
The world No1 was speaking after easing into the third round of the Australian Open for the 10th year in a row with only minor inconvenience in three sets, 6-1, 6-2, 7-6, against the teenage French qualifier Quentin Halys, and seemed surprised by a barrage of questions about a match that took place nine years ago.
Santoro, who was 39 in the world at the time and has forged a career as a TV commentator since retiring six years ago, won that match 6-3, 6-2 with Wednesday’s Tuttosport claiming Djokovic “voluntarily lost”. The late-night exchange between Djokovic and the media was tense, with several embarrassing pauses as he described the allegations as “absurd” and untrue.
Djokovic, who admitted on Monday he had been offered $200,000 in 2006 to throw a match in St Petersburg a month before the Paris Masters and had refused (he did not play in the Russian event in the end), said he had not had his attention drawn to the latest article.
When it was explained the story connected the match with “changing odds that have been discussed here in the previous couple of days,” he said: “My response is that there’s always going to be, especially these days when there is a lot of speculations, this is now the main story in tennis, in sports world, there’s going to be a lot of allegations, so …
“I have nothing more to say. I said everything I needed to say two days ago. You know, until somebody comes out with the real proof and evidence, it’s only a speculation for me.”
Tuttosport claimed the allegations were found in documents that are part of an investigation into match-fixing by prosecutors in Cremona but they did not present any of the documents or any other supporting evidence and stressed Djokovic was not under investigation.
However, claims of match-fixing aired on the BBC this week have created a fevered atmosphere here among administrators, journalists and players. When Djokovic was further asked to elaborate on the circumstances of the match, he replied: “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, who was 20 and ranked No3 in the world in 2007, had had his wisdom teeth removed before the Paris Masters.
At the time, Djokovic said: “I couldn’t give my 100%, not even 30% of my possibilities. He deserved to win. I’m still on medications. I didn’t practise for a whole week. I only started practising two days ago. Physically, I’m not feeling at all good. It’s been a very long season and I’m really exhausted. I hope people will understand.”
Djokovic subsequently complained of exhaustion after losing three matches in a row at the 2007 Masters Cup in Shanghai, the forerunner of the ATP World Tour Finals, now held at the O2 Arena in London.
Reminded on Wednesday that the claims about the Santoro match were now in the public domain, he said: “I know. Anybody can create a story about any match. That’s my point.
“There hasn’t been too many matches where top players lost in the last decade or so in early rounds. You can pick any match that you like that the top player lost and just create a story out of it. I think it’s not supported by any kind of proof, any evidence, any facts. It’s just speculation. So I don’t think there is a story about it.”
It was put to him that the newspaper was saying he had “lost on purpose”. “It’s not true,” he replied.
If it were not true, he was asked, would he consider taking action over the claims? “I have nothing more to say, guys. If you have any other questions on any other subject, I’m ready to talk about this. I have nothing more to say.”
He concluded the press conference by agreeing with the suggestion that recent stories about match-fixing must sadden him.
“Yeah, I mean, of course. You don’t want these kind of subjects or speculations going around. I think that certain media is just trying to create a story out of it without any proof. So as long as it’s like that, it’s just a story. That’s all.”
His tennis, meanwhile, remains superb. He has now won 22 sets in a row and is strongly favoured to equal Roy Emerson’s record of six Australian titles. He next plays the Italian Andreas Seppi, who won 7-5, 6-4, 6-4 against the American Denis Kudla.
Halys, slightly built at 6ft 3in, was one of four out of seven original teenagers still in the draw, and looked to have a lot of skills to work with. He could well force his way into the mix of contenders queueing up for a place at the top table. He had to save five break points to hold at the start and it didn’t get much easier but he fought all the way, forcing a third-set tie-break before the champion closed it out.
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