Given the dire state of Australian tennis at the moment, it would sometimes be hard to tell whether our players are getting thrashed because they are tanking matches or because they are mostly pretty ordinary. Luckily it’s a distinction ATP investigators don’t have to try to make. Because a list of allegedly suspect matches provided to the ATP centres primarily on players from Argentina, Italy and eastern Europe – and 140 “questionable” matches in total.
The Sunday Age yesterday revealed details of the “secret dossier”, saying it had been sent to the sports’ governing body by bookmakers who felt there had been serious irregularities in the betting.
The majority of the 140 matches will probably throw up nothing more sinister than an off day, an upset result, a coincidence. Collusion and connivance are very difficult things to prove. Apart from a massive spike in betting turnover, where’s the cold hard proof the player(s) were in on the sting?
But even if a quarter of the allegations are found have some substance, then there’s trouble in Dodge City. Something is then seriously amiss in a sport which was once played in crisp white shorts and T-shirts, where smashes were aimed away from the opponent, where linesmen went about their job unmolested and when the mere uttering of the word “tennis” evoked a gentler time in sport.
No, if a smidgin of these matches are proved to be dodgy, then corruption is eating away at the heart of professional tennis as surely as a squad of woodworms.
At the top of the ATP’s “persons of interest” list is Italy’s Filippo Volandri who is allegedly involved in 11 of the 140 matches under investigation. Argentina’s Martin Vasallo Arguello features in 9, another Argentinian Sergio Roitman in 8, and their fellow-countryman Mariano Puerta in 7.
On the surface at least, some matches are so red-hot as to be positively sizzling.
The one that has attracted most attention was played in Poland two months ago between world No.87 Vasallo Arguello and world No.4, Russia’s Nikolay Davydenko. The Argentinian was backed from $6 into $1.51 favourite with Betfair before the match, a major surprise in itself. But when he lost the first set to the Russian, Vasallo Arguello was still trading on Betfair at $1.06 – an astonishingly low price. The punters’ faith in the Argentinian was rewarded, however, when Davydenko pulled out injured in the third set claiming “breathing problems”. About $10 million was wagered on the match.
Soccer and cricket have been dealing with unscrupulous gambling syndicates and match-fixing allegations for more than a decade. Now it’s tennis’ turn. And the issue won’t go away. When big money and gambling syndicates are involved, corruption cannot be too far behind. Along with illegal drug use, it’s the scourge of modern sport.