Has match-fixing stopped after the BBC – Buzzfeed inquiry?

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Last Tuesday I was kindly invited by Simon Cox and Paul Grant to give my opinion about current situation on match-fixing on the BBC Radio 4 programme File on 4.

I was very pleased about the BBC/Buzzfeed inquiry published in January because finally the big media started discussing the match-fixing issue; I honestly thought that, after all the attention created by the inquiry, players would have been more quiet and the match-fixing would have decreased. I was wrong.

I follow odds movement pre-match and in-play of basically every match played every day, with special focus on ITF events (the lower circuit of professional tennis). I also receive a lot of warnings about suspicious matches on Facebook or on Twitter but most of them are sent by gamblers angry about a lost bet or that could not properly judge the value of the players.

I judge a match as suspicious when the result is strange for the value I assigned to the players and when I see some weird odds movement: just one of these two factors is not enough for me.

First of all, remember my article about David Marrero? You can see that bookmakers still don’t trust him.

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His last match on Bet365 had 1/4 limits of other ATP doubles matches because bookmakers are aware of his behaviour in the past and don’t want to take risks offering him in play with full betting limits.

I would offer some examples of very suspicious matches with patterns that are quite used at ITF level: to throw the whole match or to throw just the first set. I have to underline that I have absolutely no evidences that these matches have been fixed. I am not an investigator and it’s not my role to trace telephone calls, chats, bank accounts etc.

Two weeks ago in Morocco ITF Futures F1, Spanish Marcos Giraldi Requena, seed #4 and ATP top 500 had to face compatriot Hugo Largo, a weak not-ranked player that funnily managed to qualify only because his opponent in the last round of qualifying retired when 6-0 4-0 up! On paper that was a very easy first round and Largo should have won not more than a couple of games. Largo’s average odds were higher than 10 and of course similar but a bit lower odds were offered for Largo to win first set.

During the first set I noticed that Bet365, the biggest bookmaker for ITF betting, often suspended odds and then decided to cut limits of the match and removed the possibility to bet on first set outcome; this happens when they receive large bets on a specific market.

Guess what: Largo won first set 6-2 and after that set the match “really” started and concluded with an easy 6-1 6-0 for Giraldi Requena.

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This pattern is the best option for players: the cash from the fix/arranger and the cash/points for the match won.

In the same week we had also a Futures in Italy, played on a quite fast indoor surface. A few days before I was told that a former Uzbek player was hanging around ITF tournaments (included that one) offering crazy and out of “market” sums to players to throw matches. Generally an ITF match is sold for 2000 max 3000 euros and he was offering much more. Of course I have no evidences that he really managed to corrupt someone but still the information was confirmed by several sources.

One of the first round matches scheduled in the Italian tournament was Francesco Borgo against Jonata Vitari.

Borgo is an Italian journeyman inside the ATP Top 1000 that in the last months had close indoor matches against way better ranked players: 46 57 vs Sergey Stakhovksy (#62 ATP when they met) and 76 36 36 vs Roberto Marcora (#262 when they met). Jonata Vitari is a 37-year-old who won the local tournament that assigned a Main Draw Wild Card. The only singles pro match played by Vitari during last year was a 06 16 defeat against Alessandro Bega (ranked #456 when they met). Vitari won the local tournament saving match points in different matches against unranked players, and all players with a much lower Italian ranking than Borgo’s one. I want to underline that Borgo is not Novak Djokovic and that Vitari is not a complete amateur but still…

That day I noticed that Borgo’a opening price was 1.03 but Vitari’s price was heavily attacked pre-match as you can see from these screenshots

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The odds comparator didn’t catch the last update on Bet365 price (1.66) but you can see it from the Betcity price, a Russian bookmaker that adjusts odds based on Bet365 (that I reaffirm is the market leader for ITF). I wonder who can put so much money on a completely unknown 37-year-old with no ranking and nothing good in his history to make the price drop from 10 to 2.2?  Vitari said he played the match of his life but can you believe that he won the first 8 games of the match on a fast indoor court against a much better player? How was someone so convinced before the match that Vitari was so “big value” odds wise?

Bet365 decided not to offer the match in play. Other bookies did and look at the odds: Borgo was priced 19 to win set 2 on 06 12*.

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Monday in ITF Sharm El Sheikh Tamara Bizhukova had to face Oleksandra Andrieieva: pre-match the opening price of Andrieieva was quite attacked, passing from 1.5 to 1.3, and you could even think that this drop was due to some value backers but the match was offered in play with no markets apart from Money Line and….look at the odds after 3 games:

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Also look at the limits cut by the bookmaker (1/4 compared to same level match in-play).

A few minutes later Andrieieva touched 1.01

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Bizhukova lost the match 6-2 6-0.

This is the very typical example of bookmakers’ reaction when they smell a very suspicious match/player: remove all the additional markets (winner set, winner game, correct score, handicap, under/over etc…) and cut limits so even if really fixed no one can win big money.

I could bring many more examples of similar pattern happening in the past weeks but I wonder if anyone inside the Tennis Integrity Unit is spending some time looking at prematch and in play odds movements or if they just wait passively for bookmakers/gamblers to send them alerts and then hope that players have been so stupid to leave clues on their phones/laptops.

ITF world is still under attack, also considering that all those players have quite big financial problems as they are paid so little that for most of them the temptation of arranging something dirty to keep their professional dream alive.

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During the BBC programme, after 31 minutes, the FedertBet (a non-profit federation leader in detection and prevention of illegal practices in sports betting) General Manager Francesco Baranca said that on a quite recent WTA match there had been a highly suspicious amount of money placed on under/over market (with under outcome), with the big part of the money coming from the native city of one of the two players. If you missed it, earlier this year the Italian newspaper “La Gazzetta Dello Sport” affirmed that this suspicious match was Jelena Jankovic vs Anastasia Rodionova held at WTA Hong Kong. Of course the bigger part of the money was made in play but you could see how also pre-match the price on under market and on handicap had an important drop.

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Anastasia Rodionova lost the match 6-0 6-2.

Last but not least, as I said during the BBC programme, the attempt of manipulating tennis matches also touched Davis Cup: based on my knowledge I can easily affirm that dirty players and arrangers still feel untouchable and keep maintaining this sport as not clean while the Governing Bodies are still busy catching very small fishes and denying any serious accusations.