Monday saw tennis come into the news, for the good and the downright ugly. As people woke up expecting to see their favourite tennis stars in action at the Australian Open, a grim revelation of alleged corruption, involving match-fixing on the part of 16 of top 50 ranked players (including unnamed Grand Slam winners) in international events and Grand Slams, engulfed the world of tennis.
An investigative report by BuzzFeed and BBC highlighted corruption in tennis and accused governing bodies of suppressing evidence of such corruption, allowing suspect players to continue playing in the circuit.
The news, shocking to say the least, cast a shadow on the Australian Open opening day that saw top players like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams start their Grand Slam bid. Professional players came out and lent their voices to the corruption allegations, with all of them condemning fixing in tennis and sport in general. Djokovic called it a 'crime'.
Q. I'm sure you've heard that today there's been new stories and allegations about match fixing in tennis. As a lot of it happened under your watch when you were head of the Player Council, what is your latest take on it?
RF: I don't know exactly how much new things came out, to be quite honest. I heard old names being dropped. That story was checked out. Clearly you got to take it super serious, you know, like they did back in the day. Since we have the Integrity Unit, it puts more pressure on them that a story like this broke again.
But I don't know how much new things there is out there. 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. There's more pressure on these people now maybe because of this story, which is a good thing.
Under my watch, I mean, we discussed it early on. I actually never heard about it until it was brought up at a player meeting when somebody came and spoke about it. I was like, Okay, came totally from left field. Had no clue what it was about. Didn't sort of know it existed. I hadn't been approached.
Doesn't matter whether I've been approached or not, I haven't. It's a bit farfetched, all these things. Clearly for a few years now we know this is very serious. Got to do everything about it to keep the sport clean. It's vital, there's no doubt about it.
Q. You made your views clear on not being probably spent enough on doping, anti-doping. Do you think there's enough being done with the TIU, enough resources and men?
RF: I don't know the numbers. Really, you can always do more. It's like I can always train more. There's always more you can do. So a story like this is only going to increase the pressure. Hopefully there's more funding to it. That's about it. Same as doping. Yes, absolutely, got to be super aggressive in both areas, no doubt about it.
Q. You've always called for a level playing field in tennis or other sports. But still perception is so important. How can tennis ask players not to be involved in gambling and yet take one sponsorship deal after another and have big signage promoting betting companies at events?
RF: Yeah, I mean, I don't know. It's a tough one, you know, to talk about one or the other. In some ways they're connected. In some ways they're not connected at all. It depends on how you really look at it.
Betting happens all across the world in all the sports. The players just need to know, we need to make sure the integrity of the game is always maintained because without that, I always would say, why do you come and watch this match tonight or any match, because you just don't know the outcome. As long as we don't know the outcome, the players, fans, it's going to be exciting. The moment that gets taken away, there's no point anymore to be in the stadium.
That's why it's super important to keep it clean. In terms of having sponsors around there, I guess there is a lot of money there. Maybe, who knows, could it be helpful maybe? I don't know. This is a question for more people in suits than a guy in a track suit, I don't know.
Q. If you got wind of someone you knew was offered or fixing matches, would you tell the authorities straightaway?
RF: Yeah, I mean, well, I guess so. It's important that person, how he's been approached. He needs to feel he's been supported by the tour, or whatever the governing body is, that there's a place he can go and speak about it. It's uncomfortable, not a fun thing. It's not like, Oh, I've just been approached, it's all cool, and we don't talk about it.
I think it's really important that you get supported and get also told how to manage that. So, yes, I guess I would encourage that person to go and say something, otherwise I would say something or I would encourage us to go together or whatever. I would be very helpful in this situation because it's a very tricky situation to be in.
Q. Is there anything inside the ATP that talks to younger players, older players, that gives advice on how to deal with people who approach them about match fixing?
RF: You have the ATP University I went to. It was a three-day training thing. I had it in Monaco back in the day. I know they still have it at the end of the year. There was a time they stopped doing it. They were more handing out CDs and explaining everything. It was about everything: how you handle the press, how you handle financially maybe down the road, your fitness, the tour in general. They explain how things are done. Then part of that definitely today is this one as well, the doping issues as well. It's just like with the whereabouts you, how important, how serious it is. They educate you there.
So I'm sure match fixing is also a priority in those meetings. All the guys that came up, I don't know exactly the age, like the first to break into the top 100 maybe, or you're close to that, you get asked to do it. You have to come and show up at the end of the year, which is a great thing. I wasn't in favor of them handing out CDs because that just ends up being in a drawer at home. They're taking it serious again like they did with me back in the day.
Honestly, for me it was very helpful to be there. I wasn't happy to go there in the first place, but I made friends there. I felt supported by the tour. I learned things. For me it was more about the press, how to handle that, to see the press as an intermediary from us to the fans rather than looking at the press as the bad guy.
For me it was very educational. I hope it's the same thing for the young guys coming up.
Q. When you're not top 100 or 150, it's tough to stay alive on the circuit without finding other ways. That's probably the reason why, even if we wouldn't accept, it happens. Don't you think the problem should be to find some more money for those people who are not top 100? Challengers, minor tournaments, it's there where they try to fix.
RF: I completely disagree with you. I think you don't understand. It doesn't matter how much money you pump into the system, there's always going to be people approaching players, or people, any sport. It's all a question of money, you know.
It doesn't maybe happen at the challengers. It's going to happen at the futures. It's going to go away if you offer $1 million for every player to play at every tournament? It's not going to change a thing.
Still might be approached. That's why I think you're wrong there, that more money there is going to solve the issue completely.
I agree we should have more money at futures, challengers, all these levels. But it's not going to solve the issue. The issue is elsewhere, in the player's mind.
Q. Among the allegations in the report was some of the suspected match fixers were Grand Slam singles and doubles players. Is it surprising, that element, that they're saying Grand Slam champions are being involved?
RF: I mean, it's like who, what. It's like thrown around. It's so easy to do that.
I would like to hear the name. I would love to hear names. Then at least it's concrete stuff and you can actually debate about it. 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.
Like I said, it's super serious and it's super important to maintain the integrity of our sport. So how high up does it go? The higher it goes, the more surprised I would be, no doubt about it. Not about people being approached, but just people doing it in general. I just think there's no place at all for these kind of behaviors and things in our sport. I have no sympathy for those people.
Q. We all turned up today to see the reports of the allegations of match fixing in tennis. What is your take on it? None of these players have been identified. Do you feel bad that it casts a shadow over everybody?
ND: I don't think so. Honestly I've heard about the story and I read that there were a couple of players mentioned who are not active anymore, talking about the matches that have happened almost 10 years ago.
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 evolved and upgraded our programs and authorities to deal with these particular cases.
I don't think the shadow is cast over our sport. In contrary, people are talking about names, guessing who these players are, guessing those names. 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. So I think we have to keep it that way.
Q. In 2007 you were quoted as saying you'd been offered $200,000 to throw a first-round match in St. Petersburg. I believe you didn't actually even play in the tournament. Can you clarify that and tell us what happened.
ND: I was not approached directly. I was approached -- well, me personally. I was approached through people that were working with me at that time, that were with my team. Of course, we threw it away right away. It didn't even get to me, 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, rumors, some talks, some people were going around. They were dealt with. In the last six, seven years, I haven't heard anything similar.
I personally was never approached directly, so I have nothing more to say about that.
Q. As a young player on your way up, how did that make you feel, even be indirectly associated with it?
ND: It made me feel terrible because I don't want to be anyhow linked to this kind of -- you know, somebody may call it an opportunity. For me, that's an act of unsportsmanship, a crime in sport honestly. I don't support it. I think there is no room for it in any sport, especially in tennis.
But, you know, I always have been taught and have been surrounded with people that had nurtured and, you know, respected the sport's values. That's the way I've grown up. Fortunately for me, I didn't need to, you know, get directly involved in these particular situations.
Q. (Question regarding attending Zupska Berba wine festival with friend Ilija Bozoljac.)
ND: I'm not so sure. Yeah, Ilija is a good friend of mine. I grew up with him. I drink more water than wine, I must say. So although I like to enjoy every once in a while a glass of wine, not more than that.
I'm sure it's a great festival. For now I don't really have time. But I do enjoy my life. I don't know if you question that. But I assure you that I enjoy my life.
Q. You're someone who takes your role as an ambassador for the sport really seriously. You care about the message you put out there. Does it make you uncomfortable at all that this Grand Slam has a betting company as one of its big sponsors? There's so many ads, even on Twitter.
ND: Well, this is a subject for discussion, I think, today and in the future. It's a fine line. Honestly it's on a borderline, I would say. Whether you want to, you know, have betting companies involved in the big tournaments in our sport or not, you know, 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. Protecting that integrity was one of the highest priorities of each and every leadership that was part of the association. 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.
You know, I know that there is also many betting companies that on the websites are using the names, the brands, images of tournaments and players and matches in order to profit from that. Tennis hasn't been really getting the piece of that cake, if you know what I mean.
It's hard to say. I don't have yet the stand and clear opinion about that. I think it is a subject of discussion. We'll see what happens.
Q. We've known you for a long time. You always tell it like it is. But how can tennis go to some 137th ranked player who has been struggling on the circuit and tell him don't double-fault, don't throw a point here or there, when the top officials themselves go to a betting company and take that money and send an obvious mixed message to everyone?
ND: Well, it's the first time that I hear something like that. Obviously I can't speak about that from this position where I don't have the support of the facts and information and evidence, you know. Obviously you hear some stories here and there.
From my knowledge and information about, you know, the match fixing or anything similar, there is nothing happening on the top level, as far as I know. Challenger level, those tournaments, maybe, maybe not. But, you know, I'm not entitled to really talk about it. I can give my opinion. But there is an organization, authorities, people who take care of that on a daily basis and make sure to track it down.
It's always a choice for a tennis player, an athlete or any person in life. You know, even though it seems that you don't, but you always have a choice, especially for somebody who is on the tennis court, whether or not you're going to accept something that is going against everything that the sport stands for.
I would always make the right choice. But I can only speak on my own behalf.
Q. Today there are a lot of discussions and debates about this match fixing story that came out. Of course, people like you who are top 100 or 10 or so were never in the position to survive getting fixed matches. What do you think? Do you think it exists at the minor level, when someone has to stay from 120 to 180 for five, six years, having to pay maybe a coach, transportation?
MS: Yeah, honestly, I really hope not. I mean, to me the sport itself has always meant a lot more than money. I know that the more successful you are and the more matches you win, the more prize money, the more money you will receive.
But ultimately that's never been my personal driving factor in the sport. There's just so much more on the line. There's the competitiveness. There's the challenge of being better. There's playing in front of thousands of people, playing you against somebody across the net and you trying to win that match.
When you're out there, it's not about money.
Q. What I'm asking is, when you are not a player of your standard, playing in front of thousands of people.
MS: I don't think it really matters what level you are. The sport itself is meaningful. It's our career. It's our job. I mean, I guess I can only speak for myself, but we want to succeed at it by improving, by getting better, by beating our own best, and not by anything else.
That's how I would hope everyone else would think, as well. Make it a better and more competitive sport.
Q. We have the situation where tennis, to its great credit, asks players at all levels not to be involved in gambling. Yet our leading organizations go out and get their own money, so to speak, but getting sponsorships from Betway and other companies. Players aren't willing to say that's a bad thing.
MS: I personally don't understand that. It's not that I'm for or against it. As you know, I've had many great opportunities to work with great brands in my career. That's just not a direction that I've ever followed. I don't even know if I've had the chance, because I know my management would shut that down very fast. It's so far away from any of my interests, everything I want to be a part of and the people I want to work with. It has to be true and real. That's just not something I would ever associate myself with.
Q. My question is, with all respect, do you think in terms of the sporting public out there, do you think it's a problem to have signage and sponsors that say betting?
MS: I'm not in their seat. I'm not in the organization's seat. It's tough for me to speak about it.
Q. Are you aware of reports today that there is possibly match fixing allegations within professional tennis? Would you be surprised to learn of something like this happening?
SW: Yeah, I just heard about it today, just as a warning that I might be asked about it. But that's literally all I have heard about it.
Q. Have you ever seen any hint of that, any indications of that at all?
SW: Not that I'm aware of. When I'm playing, I can only answer for me, I play very hard, and every player I play seems to play hard.
I think that, you know, we go --you know, as an athlete, I do everything I can to be not only great, but, you know, historic. You know, if that's going on, I don't know about it. You know, I'm kind of sometimes in a little bit of a bubble.
Interviews courtesy 2016.ausopen.com
First Published On : Jan 19, 2016 17:42 IST