ITF in new alert over 'fixed' match
By Clive White and Gavin Versi
The match-fixing scandal that tennis hoped would quietly go away has been back in evidence here at the United States Open.
The International Tennis Federation, under whose jurisdiction the Open falls, were alerted to a possible "fix" in the second round of the men's singles and are investigating the match in question.
It is the 48th match to fall under suspicion since the Sunday Telegraph's exclusive revelation two years ago that players were deliberately throwing matches for financial gain, but it is rare for one to occur at a grand slam event.
The Association of Tennis Professionals, the governing body of the men's professional circuit, were made aware of a sustained gamble by a group of well-known Austrian betters and passed on their tip-off to the ITF. They were warned of a specific likely ending to a match, that turned out to be correct but, due to certain circumstances, the backers did not profit by as much as they had hoped, which was seven times their stake.
The ATP have been unable to prove guilt in any of the previous 47 matches, but a match at last year's St Poelten Open, between the Georgian Irakli Labadze and Julian Knowle, of Austria, is the subject of a legal action brought by a close friend of Labadze's. He bet heavily on a 2-1 win for Knowle but bookmakers Cashpoint withheld his winnings, claiming that the match, between two friends, was fixed. Both Knowle and Labadze, who was once fined under the Tour's non-effort rule after a match in Palermo in 2003, have denied any wrongdoing.
It had been hoped that the Memorandum of Understanding that the ATP signed with Betfair, the online odds exchange, during the Sunday Telegraph's initial investigation, would go some way towards eradicating the match-fixing problem. Unfortunately, according to our investigations, this has not been the case. Those involved simply use the accounts of associates who are not accredited to the tournament.
As a senior ATP figure admitted, unless it can be proved that communication has taken place between a player and a better, no prosecutions can be made, even if the scale of the problem is reflected in the organisation's policy of "routinely monitor[ing] every match all the time… no change in odds escapes our broad network of oversight".
Players' inclinations to involve themselves in this scurrilous practice may surprise some but almost all the matches investigated occurred in the first round, where losers' prize money is just a few thousand dollars at most. Players and their intermediaries can profit by more than 10 times as much by deliberately losing a match. Frequently the losing player has been carrying an injury and was likely to lose in any case.
As a leading London bookmaker put it: "I am not saying that any player was paid to lose, but what I am saying is that in all probability the outcome of these matches was known before the players stepped on to the court.
''If you went into a casino and stood beside a roulette wheel that came up red 47 times in a row, you may start to look under the table to see what was happening to cause such an extraordinary run. It is mathematically possible, but at odds of hundreds of millions to one, highly improbable."
While players' involvement remains the arrowhead of a problem that may never go away, the ATP's effort to eliminate match-fixing have occasionally been undermined by their own actions. At the Casablanca Open in May last year, for example, a tournament director granted a player's request to reschedule his match so that, if he lost, he would be able to enter the qualifying draw of a more prestigious event.
Bjorn Rehnquist, of Sweden, was scheduled to face Nicolas Mahut in the fourth match on court. Win or lose, he would have missed the 4pm deadline for confirming entry into the French Open qualifying. Paulo Pereira, the tournament director, accepted Rehnquist's wish to play the match earlier. While there is no suggestion that Rehnquist, who lost the match 6-1, 6-2, did not give his very best effort, the ATP needlessly put themselves in a position where the integrity of a match could be questioned.
The ATP's words have not always been backed-up by their actions. When the Sunday Telegraph made its revelations two years ago, Mark Miles, then ATP chief executive and now senior adviser, responded: "We did not invite punters into this sport. If there's anything we can do to escort them out, we'd be happy to do that." So who was allowed to sponsor the Kitzbuhel Open in Austria last month? A bookmaker.