Match Fixing in Tennis: Reality or Fantasy?

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Match fixing in tennis is a pretty huge and actual problem even if you would not say that looking at Tennis Integrity Unit website because in the last 12 months their Announcements have been related to:

  • Walter Trusendi and Elie Rousset suspended and fined not for a fix: Trusendi was not able to play Mohammedia Challenger Main Draw due to illness so he “sold” his place in Main Draw to the first lucky loser (Elie Rousset) in change of the first round prize money. Stupid? Yes. Not allowed? Yes. But not a terrible issue and surely not a fix.
  • Morgan Lahmri found guilty of corruption offenses: this guy is a tennis official and a player (never ranked) but the TIU didn’t give any further detail (they never do) : “Consistent with the confidentiality of the Anti-Corruption Hearing process, no further details will be made public” so we will never know which matches were involved but we can presume some ITF level matches.

So it seems that we had no fixed matches in last 12 months on ATP/WTA/Challenger tennis tour.

Match Fixing in Tennis: Reality or Fantasy?

But not only gamblers, even “normal” tennis fans could easily understand very suspicious matches at Challenger level, also because now the biggest part of matches are streamed.

The recent match between Kazakhistan Davis Cup teammates Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Andrey Golubev in Scheveningen Challenger  was a very blatant fix as Ian Dorward perfectly explained in this article.

To make a long story short, with no sign of injuries or any other explanation Nedovyesov became heavy favourite to win the match at 2-6 3-3 when starting odds were 50/50 and at that moment (and for the remaining part of the match) Golubev looked perfectly fit. Of course Nedovyesov won in the end.

You have to know that the winner of Scheveningen Challenger won 6.150 euros and at least this sum (1st round loser took 440 euros) can be easily offered to each player in first round because the fix arranger can make without great problems at least 100,000 euros only on exchange markets (such as Betfair) plus additional money on traditional bookmakers. Generally the fix arrangers ask the player that will lose the match to win the first set so that his opponent’s odds will increase and the market will last a lot longer.

At ITF level fix arrangers do not have exchange markets liquidity but can still make some good money (up to 100.000 euros but it’s pretty tough to reach this sum) especially considering that they can pay players a lot less (a winner of an ITF tournament takes home 1.440 euros, while 1st round loser 104 euros).

In the same week we had another very strange match in ATP Bogota: Marcelo Demoliner, Brazilian player with a best career singles ranking as top 300 and still a good doubles player decided to play qualies. He has a very good serve so in altitude he surely had some chances to qualify.

He had a terrific run, beating Marco Chiudinelli (current ranking #345) , Kevin King (current ranking #384) and Ilya Marchenko (current ranking #106) before losing a close match against Michael Berrer (current ranking #145).

Chiudinelli King Marchenko Berrer
1st 87% 71% 86% 68%
2nd 60% 60% 56% 45%

As you can see his serve stats have been amazing for the whole week but before that run he had to face in first round quali Jesus Francisco Felix (current ranking #1756, best ranking #1715). He won the match 3-6, 6-0, 6-0.

Look at first set stats

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 10.35.50 PM

So he had great stats against very good players and he won 8% of points on second serve against this amateur: a possible explanation is that the first set could have been fixed (Demoliner to lose it) and as Felix hit 8 double faults, Demoliner had to get broken 3 times to assure the first set to the opponent. No evidences of this (but one of the biggest bookmaker, bet365, had odds often closed during first set as they do when a lot of money is coming in) but I just wanted to underline that this a very suspicious match.

Earlier this year we had odds and money movements similar as Nedovyesov-Golubev also in the Dallas Challenger match Agustin Velotti against Denys Molchanov and Molchanov did really everything he could to lose the match (as odds suggested because after being priced 1.77 at match start his price raised to 6 at the beginning of second set…after he won the first set!).

Here you can watch maybe the best part of his acting:

https://twitter.com/TheTennisNerds/status/562365156806905857/photo/1

In February from my Twitter profile I posted another screenshot from a bookmaker that was very sure about the outcome of second set between Gregore Barrere and Alexander Lobkov in ATP Montpellier quali. The correct price should have been at least 2.0 and it was 1.02: in that second set after the initial 1-1 “clinical” double faults happened when Lokbov had “risky” (for the apparently fixed 1-6) 30-15 on *1-2 and 30-30 on *1-4.

I check daily scores and odds of almost every ITF match and it’s easy to say that a considerable part of them are fixed but not always in the same way of these Challenger matches: on Betfair.com there is good liquidity only on Money Line (winner of the match) market.

ITF players usually struggle to survive on the pro tour because of the high costs and of the low prize money so it is really tempting for many of them to sell a match to pay costs for the next weeks on tour. They really fix for peanuts and generally they don’t sell the whole match but just a set, a break or even a double fault (yes, you can bet also on who will win an exact point), especially when they know they will be able to win anyway. How can you detect the suspicious players? Players that used to fix are “blacklisted” from traditional bookmakers and their matches are no more offered or offered with ridicolous limits so no one can actually make money on them.

I am pretty sure that if the number of players that could make a living from tennis will pass from 200 to at least 500 the situation at ITF level will improve, because fixing is still a risk (even if the risk of being caught by TIU at the moment is very low) and it would be stupid to fix if you can make a living from your job. The temptation of fixing could be very high especially for juniors without sponsors that desperately need money to live their dream of turning pro.

Some players just sell the info of themselves tanking because they have to lose to catch a flight or to play the club championship in the weekend, this happens especially when a player has lost singles and is still in doubles: my tip is never bet on ITF doubles on Wednesday/Thursday! So sometimes we have a “fixed tank” but in general is really important to distinguish fixes from tanks: some people judged the Benoit Paire’s tank in San Benedetto Challenger as a possible fix but this was just a blatant tank by a player that often doesn’t care so much on court and there wasn’t any odds movement suggesting this could be fixed.

Unfortunately a lot of resentful gamblers after a bet lost are used to insult players on Social Media calling them fixers even when there is no evidence at all and this is really a shame: this sport is so beautiful also because a player can recover and win from match point down and a heavy favourite can lose against a very worse ranked player. If you say “fix” everytime a favourite loses or a player close to defeat wins you will never be trusted when real fixes happen and this is why I am personally very cautious before writing about suspicious matches.

Another quite suspicious attitude related to fixing is retiring during the match. Some bookmakers consider valid bets after first set is completed but some others consider void the bets if a player retires at any stage of the match: retiring a lot of times, especially when match is almost over, could be considered a bad sportsmanlike attitude or maybe you can think the player had a bet on himself at “void” bookmakers so if he loses by retirement is refunded.

What can we say about the Polish Adam Chadaj that in 4 tournaments in a very limited time frame had this results?

QF L  vs MILTON, Joshua (GBR) 4-6 1-5 RET November 2014
16 L  vs SCHMID, Michal (CZE) 2-6 2-5 RET August 2014
Q2 L  vs KACZYNSKI, Kevin (GER) 1-6 6-2 0-5 RET August 2014
32 L  vs GAWRON, Marcin (POL) 6-7(4) 2-5 RET June 2014

Or how should we judge the “King of Retirements” Mexican Daniel Garza that so far retired during his career 55 times in singles?

I know that TIU is present quite often at ITF tournaments and that they usually interview players that are in their suspects list: they ask questions about suspiscious matches and can confiscate laptop or smartphones of suspected players to download data. This didn’t lead to many bans as you can see from their website but I am pretty convinced that they give silent bans to players that cooperated with their investigations: these players are not fined or officially banned but are not allowed anymore to play on pro tour.

Journalists are not supposed to know the gambling world mechanisms but I think they have been too quiet so far in front of very blatant matches. They are often just the TIU echo chamber, in some case also giving false information because they are too lazy to check deeply what happened. We need from the press more and more research as my good friend Stephen Kelly did about David Savic ban in 2012.

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