Stars hit out at tales of drugs and gambling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 January, 2008, 12:00am

Bad press 'just a bunch of rumours'

The world's top female players rallied to the defence of their beleaguered sport yesterday following 12 months in which tennis has made headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Rumours of match-fixing, gambling and drugs have swirled around the men's game, ex-world number one Martina Navratilova being the latest former star to back moves to clear the sport's name while at the same time conceding that match-fixing in tennis was very hard to prove.

Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova and Anna Chakvetadze - the world numbers four, five and six respectively - are in town for this week's JB Group Classic 2008 and faced questions about the controversy yesterday.

'I think it's in the best interests of the players and the coaches to prove our sport is clean as possible,' said Sharapova.

'We work hard from a very young age and it's unfortunate that you do hear these things. Whether they are true we're not sure because sometimes it's just a bunch of rumours. Unless you get some kind of fact sheet or all the facts, they will remain rumours.'

For her part, Ivanovic said she had never taken drugs, been offered money to fix a match or even heard about players who have.

'I think the women's game is so competitive, we just want to go out there and win every match we can,' said the 20-year-old Serb.

'I think we are more competitive than the men. We seem to feel more happy about it. We have to keep it clean and keep it pure. I have never heard about anything and I hope it continues that way.'

Chakvetadze also pointed to the competitive nature of the women's game as a reason why players would never attempt to fix a match and said the WTA would never allow it to happen, such was the organisation's diligence. 'The WTA has been very clear to us about it,' said the 20-year-old Russian. 'The girls want to compete all the time, they want to win all the time. We never like to give another opponent any advantage.'

The trio are among a star-studded line-up for this year's event, which features five of the world's top 10 female players. They were joined yesterday - and at a gala cocktail party last night - by Daniela Hantuchova (9), while Venus Williams (8) flies in today. Rounding out the field are Elena Dementieva, Caroline Wozniacki and China's Peng Shuai.

Peng took the chance yesterday to brush aside her recent run-in with national tennis authorities, saying that their relationship 'was like any brother and sister and like any brother and sister we will have our fights'. Peng walked away from the final of the Chinese Grand Prix Cup last month, provoking the ire of authorities. Yesterday she said she was simply feeling ill.

For former world number one Sharapova, the Hong Kong event is a chance to continue her resurgence after a 2007 that had mostly seen her battle injuries. But a place in the season-ending Tour Championships showed she had regained some of the form that has made her a two-time grand slam champion.

'It was a major turning point in my career, the past 12 months,' said the Russian. 'I have learned a lot about myself. Now I am really looking forward to the next 12 months and playing some great tennis again.'

The JB Group Classic begins tonight with an opening ceremony at Victoria Park from 6pm and will conclude on Saturday.