Lleyton Hewitt found himself dragged into the on-going match-fixing scandal
"I think it's a joke to deal with it," he tells reporters after his final match
Former world No. 1 chose the Australian Open to retire from the game
Allegations of match-fixing that damaged tennis this week while players competed at the Australian Open even dampened Lleyton Hewitt’s sendoff, with the twice-grand slam winner having to deny he had done anything wrong after he was dragged into the affair.
On Monday, BuzzFeed news, in an investigative collaboration with the BBC, claimed 16 players were among a core group “who have repeatedly been reported for losing games when highly suspicious bets have been placed against them.” It also said one grand slam singles winner was involved.
Neither media organization named names but a separate blog did Thursday and listed Hewitt as the singles grand slam winner in question.
Hewitt’s career has been celebrated this week by local and national media as he retires and three of the game’s biggest stars – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray – all paid tribute to the 34-year-old, nicknamed “Rusty,” after he fell in his final singles match Thursday in Melbourne to David Ferrer.
Hewitt addressed the crowd with his three children beside him and they also flanked him at his mandatory post-match press conference, when tournament director Craig Tiley led a salute to the former No. 1.
But the unsavory subject of match-fixing surfaced and Hewitt was asked about his name being on the list published by the online blog near the end of his extended briefing with reporters.
“I think it’s a joke to deal with it,” said Hewitt, regarded as one of the game’s greatest competitors, having played through pain for much of his career. “You know, obviously, yeah, there’s no possible way. I know my name’s now been thrown into it.
“I don’t think anyone here would think that I’ve done anything corruption or match fixing. It’s just absurd.
“For anyone that tries to go any further with it, then good luck. Take me on with it. Yeah, it’s disappointing. I think throwing my name out there with it makes the whole thing an absolute farce.”
CNN contacted another player on the list but didn’t immediately hear back.
In a statement sent to CNN Friday, the ATP said it was “disappointing” and “irresponsible” for the blog to publish the list of players.
“The ATP does not condone lists of player names being released without proof of match fixing,” the governing body stated. “It is not only disappointing but also irresponsible with little or no regard to the players’ reputation. Without proof it is nothing more than speculation.”
Federer calls for names
About half a dozen players or former players who have spoken to CNN this week about the issue downplayed Monday’s findings, calling for more evidence. Federer told reporters he wanted names mentioned.
Novak Djokovic became entangled in the saga when an Italian newspaper claimed he deliberately lost a match at the Paris Masters in 2007 to Frenchman Fabrice Santoro. Djokovic, who was 20 at the time and not yet a grand slam champion, denied the allegation Wednesday following a second-round win over another Frenchman, Quentin Halys.
Prior to the clash against Santoro, the current world No. 1 had just had his wisdom teeth removed.
“Anybody can create a story about any match,” the 10-time grand slam winner said Wednesday. “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.”
This week the ATP tour repeatedly said it had a “zero tolerance” stance on match fixing and denied that the Tennis Integrity Unit, formed in 2008, didn’t thoroughly investigate matches brought to its attention.