While these next two weeks should be a celebratory time for the sport of tennis and its fans, a BBC and BuzzFeed report about match-fixing at the highest level have cast an ominous shadow over the game during the year’s first major, the Australian Open.
The two news agencies were able to obtain documents from a secret 2008 report that indicated that world tennis authorities took no action against 28 top-level players, including winners of Grand Slam titles who were suspected of match-fixing.
The most prevalent and maybe obvious match that has raised many red flags was a 2007 contest between then world number four Nikolay Davydenko and Argentinean Martin Vassallo Arguello.
Despite being ranked significantly higher, Davydenko was not the favorite and on the betting Web site, Betfair (yes, in this case, the name is a bit ironic), a few Russian gamblers had wagered millions of pounds on Arguello to win. Davydenko retired while up a set and a break in the second set, and sensing the shady gambling trends, Betfair voided ALL bets on the match.
Since this was prior to tennis having its own Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), it hired investigators from the British Horseracing Authority to investigate, and they interviewed both players, coaches and even the gamblers themselves. The team then presented its findings to the ATP, whom cleared the players of any wrongdoing.
But this was just the tip of the iceberg says Mark Phillips, a betting analyst who was involved in the original investigation: “You’d have one player would win a set and then they would go a break of serve up and then almost as soon as that happened there would just be a flood of money for the other player who would then miraculously win eight games in a row,” Phillips said.
In addition to the Russian gamblers, there are also suspicious matches bet on by groups from Sicily, and according to the report, three of these matches were at Wimbledon and one was at the French Open.
There are a ton of layers to this story, and it will only continue to be peeled back as the weeks and months carry on. World number one Novak Djokovic said his team was approached in 2007 and offered $200,000 to throw a match, so this report isn’t a shock to many players on the tour, or even the ATP.
“We are aware [corruption] is there,” said ATP chief executive Chris Kermode. “I think it is on an incredibly small level.”
Much of the details have yet to come to the surface, and a lot of the reporting is still fuzzy. What is clear is that the threat of match-fixing is real, especially with those not ranked inside the top 100 or top 120, because of the lack of prize money at smaller tournaments. Until issues like those are taken care of, I think we will see more lower-level players tempted to take money from people.
Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.