Andy Murray and a much lesser-known British player, Johanna Konta, advanced to the Australian Open semifinals Wednesday, when the action on court had to compete, again, with news about the integrity of the sport.
Murray beat David Ferrer 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3 to reach his 18th a Grand Slam semifinal. Konta, who is making her debut in the main draw at the season’s first major, had a 6-4, 6-1 win over Chinese qualifier Zhang Shuai.
It’s the first time since the December 1977 version of the Australian Open that two British players – John Lloyd and Sue Barker that year – have advanced to the final four of any major.
Konta, the first British woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since Jo Durie at the 1983 U.S. Open, will play Angelique Kerber, who beat two-time champion Victoria Azarenka 6-3, 7-5. Born in Australia but living in Britain since her early teens, the 24-year-old Konta also has Hungarian citizenship and calls herself a ”tri-citizen.”
The No. 2-ranked Murray, who has lost four finals at Melbourne Park, will meet Milos Raonic in the semifinals. The 25-year-old Canadian beat Gael Monfils 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in a night match, continuing his strong form that has seen him beat Roger Federer in the Brisbane International final and French Open champion Stan Wawrinka in the fourth round here.
Novak Djokovic and Federer will contest the other semifinal.
From the start, the Australian Open has been overshadowed by media reports alleging tennis authorities had failed to thoroughly investigate suspicion of match-fixing.
On Wednesday, just as Kerber began her match with Azarenka, the governing bodies of tennis announced they will commission an independent review of their anti-corruption unit to restore ”public confidence in our sport.”
In announcing the review, ATP Chairman Chris Kermode said the reports had ”caused damage to the sport,” which compelled the major stakeholders in tennis – the International Tennis Federation, ATP and WTA tours, and the four Grand Slams – to take quick action to address the issue.
A BBC and Buzzfeed News report which coincided with the start of the Australian Open alleged 16 players – all ranked at some stage in the top 50 – had been flagged for being involved in matches where suspicious betting activity was detected. No players were identified and no specifics were published.
Back on the courts, Murray’s match with Ferrer involved plenty of long rallies. Two of them – at 27 and 31 shots in length – came during the second-set tiebreaker, and Murray lost both of those points. But the Scotsman moved out to a 4-1 lead in the third set, during which there was a brief break when the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed because of an approaching thunderstorm.
Murray liked it with a roof over his head.
”That helped me a little bit,” Murray said. ”I like playing indoors. I think it was actually good for us to have a little bit of a break. We played some brutal rallies at the end of the second set and the beginning of the third.”
Murray and Raonic, who advanced to his second Grand Slam semi – he lost in the final four at Wimbledon to Federer in 2014 – are 3-3 in career meetings.
”I think just the perseverance throughout it, I had a lot of opportunities even in that set I lost,” Raonic said. ”I just said to myself keep making opportunities and hopefully they’ll go my way.”
Kerber went down a break in the second set before winning five consecutive games and saving five set points before beating Azarenka, the result coming as a surprise despite the difference in seedings. No. 7 Kerber broke No. 14 Azarenka’s serve to end the match, her first win in seven matches against the Belarussian.
”When I was down 2-5, I was actually playing more aggressive,” Kerber said.
Six-time champion Serena Williams and No. 4-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska will meet in the other women’s semifinal, also on Thursday.
The independent review announced in a news conference at Melbourne Park, earlier reported by The Associated Press, will be funded by the Tennis Integrity Board, which oversees the anti-corruption unit set up by the sport in 2008 to combat match-fixing. It will be led by Adam Smith, a London-based lawyer who is an expert in sports law.
Kermode acknowledged that the announcement of the review helped keep the topic of match-fixing prominent in and around the tournament action.
”It has been hard on the Australian Open, no question about it,” Kermode said. ”Obviously the report was timed to hit at this point, try to create as big a story as possible. But (Australian Open organizers) have been unbelievably supportive of the actions we’ve taken.”