Nikolay Davydenko: I cried in locker room but I did nothing wrong

Being accused of throwing matches left the Russian an emotional wreck on the brink of quitting. He has bouts of depression and can't lose the betting stigma
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The Independent Online

Modern tennis professionals do not get many chances to spend time in their own country, and when they do it is usually an opportunity to be relished. However, do not try telling Nikolay Davydenko about the joys of the St Petersburg Open, where he was playing last week.

On Wednesday, the 27-year-old Russian announced his withdrawal from the tournament after suffering a wrist injury in his first match. If the pain was a concern as he looked ahead to his final two events of the year, this week's Paris Masters and next month's Tennis Masters Cup, at least it bore no relation to the hurt he felt at the same tournament 12 months ago.

"That was my worst moment," Davydenko said as he reflected on a bizarre episode in what has been an extraordinary past 15 months for the world No 6. Already at the epicentre of the biggest betting controversy in tennis history (Betfair, the online betting exchange, voided all wagers on his match against Argentina's Martin Vassallo Arguello in Poland last August because of highly unusual betting patterns), Davydenko was warned by the umpire in St Petersburg for not trying during his three-sets defeat by Marin Cilic, in which he served 10 double faults. The following day he was fined $2,000 (£1,234) by the Association of Tennis Professionals.

The punishment was rescinded later, but at the time it felt like the world was caving in on Davydenko, who had been troubled by an elbow injury. "I was shocked and crying in the locker room," he recalled. "I was having trouble with my serve, but I was tryingmy best, as I always do."

More misery followed a week later at the Paris Masters. During his straight-sets defeat by Marcos Baghdatis, which included 10 more double faults, Davydenko was instructed to "serve like me" by the umpire, who told him to "try your best".

While the events of last autumn were the lowest points for Davydenko – he became so depressed that he even contemplated retirement – you wonder whether the long-term effects of this drawn-out saga will be just as damaging. The ATP announced last month, more than a year after the match at the centre of the controversy, that they had concluded their inquiry, having found "no evidence of a violation of its rules by either Mr Arguello or Mr Davydenko or anyone else associated with the match", but there is little sign yet of an upturn in his on-court fortunes.

By the standards of a player who was ranked No 3 in the world two years ago and reached four semi-finals and four quarter-finals in a run of 10 Grand Slam tournaments ending with last year's US Open, Davydenko has had an indifferent season. Although he won the Masters Series tournament in Miami, he has not gone beyond the fourth round of a Grand Slam event this year.

In conversation, the Russian does not sound like a man who has had the weight of the world lifted off his shoulders. He agrees to talk about the betting controversy, but his eyes have the resigned look of someone who senses this is an issue the world will never let him forget. How did he feel about the end of the investigation? "I feel happy because I did nothing wrong and I gave the ATP everything they needed from me. They asked for my telephone records and I gave them to them. I'm really happy that they found nothing wrong as far as the players were concerned. The investigation went on for more than a year. I always wanted the investigation to show that tennis is a good, clean sport."

He added: "It's not only me they've been investigating over the last year. They've been investigating every player. And they haven't found anything. I just don't think it's possible for people inside tennis to gamble.

"Outside – for fans or whoever – it's different. In the past I can remember some guys coming up to me after I lost a match in the first round in Umag [in Croatia] and saying: 'I put money on you to win and you lost. What's happening?' It was some Russian guy. I said: 'I don't know why you put money on me.' That's happened other times as well."

While the ATP could find no evidence of wrongdoing, the investigation failed to come up with an explanation for the extraordinary sequence of bets on the second-round encounter in Poland. At the time, Davydenko was No 4 in the world and Arguello No 87. Davydenko was the clear favourite, but on Betfair the Russian's odds lengthened, even after he won the first set. Arguello won the second set and Davydenko retired, complaining of a foot injury, when trailing 2-1 in the decider.

Betfair, noting irregular betting patterns, notified the ATP and voided $7 million (£4.3m) in wagers, the first time they had taken such action. It was later reported that nine Betfair account-holders in Russia would have profited by $1.5m, while two others would have made nearly $6m.

As the ATP launched an investigation, other players came forward to claim they had been invited to throw matches. With the controversy snowballing, two former British police officers were appointed to look into the allegations (they found no evidence of corruption but recommended a series of security measures which are being implemented), while Davydenko, who had been one of the most anonymous players ever to break into the world's highest ranks, found himself the focus of media attention.

"From the middle of last year right through to the start of this year I was in the press too much," Davydenko said. "Mentally it was tough for me. There were too many questions from the press and I felt that whenever I was going on court people were looking at me. Now it's different. Everybody knows that I didn't do anything wrong. It's starting to change, though it is a slow process."

The St Petersburg incident left Davydenko an emotional wreck. "I'd suffered an elbow injury in Moscow, which had made me pull out from Madrid the week before," he said. "I also had some problems with it in Paris. That's why I served a lot of double faults. I had problems with my muscles. I completely lost my feeling for my serve.

"If you serve one double fault and you follow it with another you start to get nervous. Then you worry about the next shot and you start to think you should change something. I got warned, but I was playing and fighting from the baseline. It was just the problem with my serve."

Davydenko, who has lived in Germany since he was 15, was relieved to finish the season but the investigation dragged on into 2008, particularly after the Russian's camp questioned the investigators' right to demand the telephone records of his brother, who is his coach, and his wife. The challenge failed, but by that time the records had been destroyed by the German phone company under local data protection laws.

The betting investigation was not Davydenko's only brush with the ATP last year. He was fined in January for claiming that some players had pulled out of a warm-up tournament before the Australian Open because they did not care about the event. Three months later, during a row over the possible downgrading of the clay-court tournaments at Monte Carlo and Hamburg, he made derogatory comments about Etienne de Villiers, the ATP's executive chairman.

Davydenko believes the lengthy Poland investigation may have cost him sponsorship money. "At the time I was No 4 or 5 in the world and maybe I could have got some contracts for shirt logos," he said. "After the investigation everybody wanted to wait because they wanted to see what would happen."

Has he considered suing the ATP? "I don't think I would win," Davydenko said. "The ATP would say that they didn't claim I'd done anything wrong. They would just say that they were conducting an investigation and that they hadn't found anything wrong. I don't think it would be possible either to take any sort of action against Betfair. It's tough to say. I just think that in the future we need to give better protection to players."

So what is Davydenko's explanation for the extraordinary betting on his match in Poland last year? "I know there are people who gamble on matches as they're being played. If you're at the side of the court with a laptop and you have a fast internet connection it can be very interesting for you. Between what's happening live and what goes out on TV you have a few seconds to do something."

Davydenko suspects that someone in the stand might have sparked off the heavy betting against him after realising early on that he had a major physical problem. The Russian later called for the trainer and said he retired in order not to cause himself further damage.

"I think somebody sitting there must have seen something," he said. "Maybe if I said in Russian something like, 'I can't go on any more', people might have heard it. In Poland they understand Russian. Maybe someone heard and decided straightaway to risk money and bet against me."

Match-fixing allegations and tennis betting controversies

1. Betting was suspended on a match between Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente in Lyon five years ago following heavy backing for the Spaniard, who won in straight sets.

2. Belgium's Gilles Elseneer said he was approached at Wimbledon three years ago and offered €100,000 [£80,400] to throw his match against Italy's Potito Starace.

3. Paul Goldstein, the veteran American, said he had been asked to influence the outcome of a match within the past three years.

4. A match at Wimbledon two years ago was investigated after Betfair reported substantial betting on Richard Bloomfield to beat Argentina's Carlos Berlocq, ranked 170 places higher than the Briton. Bloomfield won in straight sets. The investigation found no evidence of corruption.

5. Dmitry Tursunov, of Russia, said he was approached twice two years ago with bribery offers.

6. The Frenchman Michael Llodra said last year that he received an anonymous call asking him to "be relaxed" in his next match.

7. Britain's Arvind Parmar said he was offered a bribe to throw a Challenger match.

Paul Newman