By Nick Mulvenney
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – World number one Novak Djokovic swept regally into the third round of the Australian Open on Wednesday before being forced to deny any involvement in the tennis match-fixing scandal that has dogged the first three days of the grand slam.
The Serbian defending champion granted Quentin Halys a 100-minute audience on Rod Laver Arena before despatching the French teenager 6-1 6-2 7-6(3) but he enjoyed a less comfortable ride in the post-match media conference.
Alerted to a story in an Italian newspaper suggesting his loss to now-retired French player Fabrice Santoro in Paris in 2007 was fixed, the 28-year-old denied it point blank.
“It’s not true,” he said when told he had been accused of deliberately losing. “What it is to say? I’ve lost that match.”
“Anybody can 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.”
Before the media conference, the last of the day, it had appeared the reverberations from Monday’s media reports alleging numerous top-50 players had been flagged up for possibly throwing matches but not investigated by the tennis authorities, were fading.
Back on court, Djokovic was joined in the third round by women’s champion Serena Williams, 17-times grand slam champion Federer and Maria Sharapova who all made short work of their second-round opponents.
Following Tuesday’s defeats for former men’s champion Rafa Nadal and women’s second seed Simona Halep, the only real shock on day four came in the penultimate match of the day when Czech sixth seed Petra Kvitova, twice a Wimbledon winner, was beaten 6-4 6-4 by naturalised local Daria Gavrilova.
Top seed Williams took exactly an hour to dismiss Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei 6-1 6-2 in the second match of the day on Rod Laver Arena after fifth seed five-times grand slam champion Sharapova had routed unseeded Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-2 6-1.
Both had arrived at Melbourne Park with question marks over their fitness but look in good shape as they head towards their potential quarter-final meeting.
“I don’t think I made that many errors today, something I was hopefully trying to get back into,” said Williams, who had not completed a set in four months coming into the tournament.
“So slowly but surely, feeling a little bit better.”
Third seed Federer was next up on the main showcourt to put down tricky Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3 7-5 6-1 and retain his record of never having failed to reach the third round in 17 visits to Melbourne Park.
The 34-year-old Swiss, still the doyen of men’s tennis, brushed aside attempts by reporters to revisit his views on the association between gambling companies and the sport he dominated for so long.
“I answered that question the other day,” he said when the subject was broached. “Just check the transcript (of) my press conference last time, it’s like a book.”
Seventh seed Kei Nishikori cruised into the third round with a 6-3 7-6(5) 6-3 win over Austin Krajicek and Czech Tomas Berdych, seeded one place above the Japanese, also only needed three sets to power past Bosnia’s Mirza Basic 6-4 6-0 6-3.
Canadian Eugenie Bouchard’s hopes of wiping away the disappointments of her 2015 season with a good run at Melbourne Park were shattered when fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska rallied from an early deficit to win 6-4 6-2.
There was a minor upset when twice grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, a title winner in Sydney last week, was dumped out of the tournament by Kateryna Bondarenko 6-1 7-5 but the major ruction in the women’s draw came later.
Kvitova suffered from glandula fever last year and pulled out of the Australian Open warm-up events in Shenzhen and Sydney with a gastro-intestinal illness but paid full credit to Moscow-born Gavrilova — the only one of nine Australian women in the draw to survive the first round.
“I think she played a really good game today and did what she needed to do,” she said.
“I felt a little bit tired on court today and my serve didn’t want to work … I felt a bit weird but I’m not sick anymore, well, maybe in the head,” she added with a laugh.
(Editing by Martyn Herman)