Novak Djokovic cools down during his match against Chung Hyeon on January 18, 2016. Djokovic, who said a staff member was approached over a  money offer to throw a tie in 2007, considers match-fixing a crime in the sport. Picture: AFP
Novak Djokovic cools down during his match against Chung Hyeon on Monday. Djokovic, who said a staff member was approached over a money offer to throw a tie in 2007, considers match-fixing a crime in the sport. Picture: AFP

MELBOURNE — World No 1 Novak Djokovic said a member of his staff was approached about fixing a match early in his career, and he questioned whether betting companies should be allowed to sponsor big tennis tournaments.

The reigning Australian Open champion was speaking after the sport was rocked by allegations that the authorities had failed to deal with widespread match-fixing. A report said top-50 players, including Grand Slam champions, had been suspected of match-fixing without facing action.

Three suspect matches were at Wimbledon, and eight of the players under suspicion were due to take to the courts for the Australian Open, the BBC and BuzzFeed claimed. Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) chief Chris Kermode rejected any suggestion that match-fixing evidence had been covered up or ignored.

"The tennis integrity unit and the tennis authorities absolutely reject any suggestion that evidence of match-fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn’t being thoroughly investigated," Kermode told reporters.

"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."

Djokovic said that as far as he was aware, there was no longer a problem with what he described as a "crime in sport" at the top level of tennis, but added that he had once been approached indirectly to throw a match.

"I was not approached directly, I was approached through people that were with my team," he said.

"Of course, we threw it away right away. 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 talk, some people were going around. They were dealt with.

"In the last six, seven years, I haven’t heard anything similar."

In 2007, Djokovic said an approach had been made offering him $200,000 to throw a match at the St Petersburg Open in Russia, a tournament he did not ultimately play in.

The 28-year-old Serb said although he was confident there was no longer a problem at the top level, he could not speak for further down the tennis rankings.

Djokovic was also asked about the propriety of betting companies being sponsors of major tennis tournaments, even if there had never been allegations that such companies were involved in any wrongdoing.

William Hill became the first "official wagering partner" of the Australian Open last year, and this year advertisements for the British bookmaker adorned the three main show courts at Melbourne Park for the first time.

Critics, who say the relationship sends out the wrong message, have called on Tennis Australia to end it, and Djokovic said there should at least be a debate.

William Hill and Tennis Australia did not have an immediate comment to make.

"Well, this is a subject for discussion, I think, today and in the future," Djokovic said. "It’s a fine line. Honestly it’s on a borderline, I would say," he 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," he added.

"I think especially in the Grand Slams that are and always have been the most valued and respected and known tennis tournaments around the world throughout the history of this sport.

"It’s hard to say. I don’t have yet (a) clear opinion about that. I think it is a subject of discussion. We’ll see what happens," Djokovic said.

Reuters, AFP