Tennis Match-Fixing - Don't Read Into It

Don’t read too much into tennis match fixing allegations

By: The Rex Factor

The first major of the tennis season began Monday as the tennis world descended on Melbourne Park for the Australian Open. But the action on the courts was far from the big story.

BuzzFeed News and the BBC came out with a report just before the first ball was served in the two-week tournament saying that there is substantial evidence of corruption and widespread match fixing in tennis but that the proper authorities have refused to act.

The report goes on to make some pretty wild (though certainly plausible) reports of players being involved with gambling syndicates in Italy and Russia to help “tank” (or purposefully lose) matches.

Obviously, tennis is a ridiculously easy sport to fix, especially at the lower level tournaments where the players don’t make gobs of money. Only one player is involved, unlike team sports like basketball. Live betting in tennis has been around for a decade or so and there are several reasons that it’s difficult to prove anyone has actually taken money to throw their match. Some players “retire” due to injury after the betting result becomes official, while other matches have probably involved both players pre-determining the result.

The problem with these accusations is that they don’t name any players specifically. There is simply not enough clinching evidence to take anyone to court – or to stop a potential libel action from any named players.

One match in 2007 between world 4th-ranked Nicolay Davydenko and Argentine Martin Vassallo at the Polish Open showed betting patterns so out of whack (Vassallo was ranked 91st in the world, down a set and still getting all the money in live betting) that the European exchange BetFair took the unprecedented step of voiding all bets. Sure enough, Davydenko lost the second set then complained of ankle and toe pain and retired in the third set.

This is one of the reasons why gambling should be legalized everywhere. By taking the underworld element out of play and allowing the bookmakers to do their job, the flaws in betting activity are much more easily recognized.

The 1994 Arizona State basketball point shaving case comes to mind first, as former NBA player Stevin Smith was involved in four games where the Sun Devils shaved points in Pac 10 play. Las Vegas casinos sniffed out the stunt in the fourth game (after three successful ASU non-covers) when several hundred thousand dollars in bets poured in LEGALLY (as well as unknown amounts illegally) on Washington against the Sun Devils despite the line moving from +15 at open to as low as +3 on Washington at post (and off the board at some spots in Vegas).

By working together with the government, all of the principals involved in this scam were caught and prosecuted. This could work in tennis as well, but the Tennis Integrity Unit (set up in 2008) has to be more persistent, perceptive and aggressive when pursuing would-be fixers.

For now, don’t read too much into this story – but keep your eyes open. Perhaps other dominoes could fall later in the year.

The Rex Factor has followed ATP and WTA tennis since the 1990s and has been betting the majors for more than 15 years. But despite him being a 6-foot-5 lefty, it was the only sport he didn’t participate in that his high school offered.

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