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Suspect betting probed at SW19

Investigation launched into men's first-round match amid match-fixing concerns

The tennis authorities last night launched an investigation into a first-round match played here in the men's singles yesterday after "suspicious" betting patterns led bookmakers to suspend the markets.

This is the second time in two weeks that bookies have tipped off the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU), which investigates allegations of corruption, over "concerns" about a match amid ongoing fears of match-fixing in tennis. A game at a tournament in the Netherlands last week is also among a number of games being looked at.

The Independent understands five matches from 2009 alone are being studied, all in ATP men's matches, but the authorities consistently decline to provide any details or make any comment.

Yesterday's game in question featured Austria's Jürgen Melzer, 28, who is ranked 30th in the world, and Wayne Odesnik, 23, a South African-born American ranked 109th. Melzer was the favourite and always should have been, but bookmakers reported "extraordinary" sums on him winning by three sets to love. He won 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

William Hill said there was a "swing towards Melzer" but they continued taking bets and said the game was within the bounds of reasonable expectation.

Ladbrokes and Paddy Power were among high-street firms who suspended betting before the match, as did most online operators.

Betfair did not suspend betting and on that site alone, £1m was gambled on the match, with around £650,000 before it started and the balance on "in-play betting". The vast majority of the bets on Betfair – and everywhere else – were for Melzer.

The most astonishing figure is that £350,000 was traded on Melzer to win 3-0 on Betfair alone, at odds as short as 1-9. A comparable match between players with low profiles, on an outside court and not on TV would be expected to attract about £10,000 in set betting. Yesterday's gamble suggests that a number of people had a strong belief in a Melzer win and by a 3-0 scoreline.

Before the game, £405,000 had been wagered on the overall outcome match (Melzer or Odesnik) on Betfair, with £395,000 of that on Melzer. On the specific scoreline, £242,000 was bet before the match, and £241,000 of that on 3-0 to Melzer.

The TIU's first line of inquiry will be whether there was any trading of inside information arising from the fact that Odesnik had suffered a minor muscle injury on Monday. The player himself insisted to The Independent last night that he "felt fine" to play and had not made his muscle problem public knowledge.

"I have no idea about any of this," he said, when asked if he was aware of the betting patterns and suspension of the markets. "I'm just here to play, I'm a young guy with a good future ahead of me and I would never do anything to risk that." He said he had never been approached by any would-be match- fixer and could think of no reason why there was a huge gamble against him, although he added that he had arrived in London only on Saturday, and had had just one day's practice.

Melzer said he was not surprised by the result. "He [Odesnik] is not known as a grass-court player. He told me at the net at the end that he'd tweaked a muscle yesterday and had a problem in his quad muscle."

When told about the betting patterns, Melzer said: "I have no comment on that. I don't know anything about that at all."

As The Independent revealed last week, the tennis authorities started the tournament with a "watch list" of between six and 12 players, including Russians, Argentines, Italians and Spaniards, who would be under scrutiny because of past involvement in matches where suspicious betting happened and match-fixing was suspected.

A spokesman for Paddy Power said that the firm had suspended its market on Melzer-Odesnik yesterday "not particularly because of the match betting but because of the 3-0 scoreline betting.

"The odds on that went from 9-5 to 1-4 in the morning and for that kind of move you're talking about quite a lot of money. The 3-0 was pretty much the only scoreline we saw [gambled on], thousands of pounds in our shops."