It has been thought for years that tennis, specifically the lower-level tours, has a problem with match fixing and questionable betting practises.
This is not mere speculation either: in 2016 the Italian player, Marco Cecchinato, was fined £33,000 and banned for 18 months after being found guilty of ‘altering’ the outcome of his ATP Challenger Tour match against Kamil Majchrzak.
And that followed a joint investigation from the BBC and Buzzfeed into a confirmed match-fixing ring, which saw 34 people arrested after a report implicated a number of professional players – including former members of the world’s top 50 – in the scheme which netted the guilty parties in excess of £400,000.
Now a new report, the Independent Review of Integrity in Tennis, has revealed that the problem is perhaps more wide-ranging than anybody could have suspected.
A survey of more than 3000 players from all levels of the game revealed that 464 respondents had experienced or heard of match fixing occurring; nearly 15% of all the players asked. Adam Lewis QC, who oversaw the research, said that ‘tennis is responsible for more suspicious betting than any other sport’.
The Problem In a Nutshell
It is very tough for youngsters making their way in the game, and experienced old heads in the winter of their careers, to make a viable living from the professional game.
It is usually only tournament winners that are rewarded well for their efforts, with early losers – when factoring in travel costs, expenses and coaching fees – struggling to break even. Sponsorship is harder to come by at the lower levels, too.
And so an unscrupulous betting network offering you a few thousand quid to throw a match will surely become tempting; especially for impressionable young players. We saw an example of that in cricket, where 17-year-old Mohammad Amir was told to bowl no balls as part of a spot fixing ban coordinated by his Pakistan captain, Salman Butt. Butt was imprisoned for his part in the crime, while Amir – after a short period of detention – is back playing professional cricket again.
The problem also dates back to 2012, when the data firm Sportradar were tasked with the distribution of live scores by the ITF for theirs and ‘Futures’ events. The number of in-play betting markets soared, and betting rings spotted an opportunity….
Umpires were required to input live scores on a tablet to update the correlating scoreboards. But some individuals were delaying their updates, which allowed those in attendance at events in the crowd to place in-play bets based upon outdated scores.
Suspicious Betting Patterns: A Working Example
There are a number of outlets that have captured data that allegedly shows match fixing in action on betting exchanges. Indeed, there are Twitter feeds dedicated to the matter.
The Last Word on Tennis reported on one such instance in 2017, when the Ukrainian, Alexandr Dolgopolov, went from being a red-hot favourite to the clear underdog in a matter of hours prior to a Challenger Tour match. Indeed, the graphic shows his odds went from 1/4 to 5/2 without a ball being hit.
Price moves are nothing new, of course, but for his odds to change as dramatically as that a significant volume of bets would have to have been placed to facilitate the move. There was no indication that Dolgopolov was injured or suffering in any way, and his subsequent defeat came as a surprise….well, to nobody, really.
The bookmaker Pinnacle actually voided wagers on the match such was the level of suspicion, and Ladbrokes actually closed their market prior to the start. “I can confirm we suspended the match [betting] due to the suspicious moves in prices pre-match. This was flagged to relevant authorities right away,” their spokesman said.
— Tennis World English (@TennisWorlden) August 22, 2017
Although we should point out here that Dolgopolov has never been found guilty of wrongdoing following an investigation by the Tennis Integrity Unit.
What Next for Punters?
All we want as punters is a fair crack of the whip: two players giving it their all to try and win a match. That way, if our bet loses at least we know our selection gave it a good go.
These latest revelations might be enough to put you off betting on tennis, but the key takeaway point from the findings is this: there is no evidence to suggest a ‘widespread problem’ in elite professional tennis, or any indication of a cover-up by the sport’s governing bodies.
The match-fixing allegations typically target the game’s ‘lesser’ tours, where there is less interest from the wider public and as such questionable behaviour, such as suspicious double faults or dumping shots into the net, is less scrutinised.
If you like a wager or two on the lower reaches of tennis, it may make sense to hold off for a while as the accuracy of the report is verified by the sport’s governing bodies.