The murky world of tennis
Like Wimbledon's dress code, the sport used to be whiter than white. Not any more
Sunday 11 November 2007
Tennis is preparing to bring down the curtain on the 2007 season in Shanghai this week with the Masters Cup, which begins today. The sport's perennial number one, Roger Federer, will be there. So will the number two, Rafael Nadal, who holds the French Open, the only one of the four Grand Slam titles not in Federer's grasp. And unfortunately for the good name of the game – a commodity that tennis authorities around the world are scrambling to uphold – so will Nikolay Davydenko. The Russian, ranked fourth in the world, is at the centre of growing speculation over allegations of match-fixing and other goings-on in a sport that, like Wimbledon's dress rules, has always been deemed pure white.
No longer. As scandals come thick and fast – involving cocaine, bribes and poisonings – the latest twist involves tales of betting within the sport. Yesterday, it was announced that Alessio Di Mauro, an Italian ranked 124, has been suspended for nine months and fined $60,000 (£28,500) for admitting to betting on tennis matches through an online account, though he denied his own matches were involved.
It is Davydenko, however, who is the most high-profile character caught up in the allegations. In August, the 26-year-old, who has played an astonishing 81 singles matches already this year, lost to the world number 74, Martin Vassello Arguello of Argentina, in the second round of a tournament in Sopot, Poland, having won the first set comfortably. The online betting company Betfair declared void £3.5m of bets on the match, citing "a suspicious pattern of gambling".
On Friday, two former Scotland Yard detectives, working for the Association of Tennis Professionals, flew to Frankfurt with Gayle Bradshaw, the ATP's rules and competition administrator, to interview Davydenko's wife Irina and his brother and coach, Eduard. Davydenko, who claims he is the victim of a "witch hunt", was interviewed by this trio after the US Open in September and refused, on advice, to hand over within seven days records of all telephones owned and used by him.
Davydenko, who faces life suspension if found guilty of match-fixing, has collected more than £750,000 in prize money this year and is known on the men's tour as a tennis workaholic, having played 29 tournaments, plus the Davis Cup for Russia. He says this prodigious work rate has led to injury problems, but has not prevented him being warned and fined for lack of effort in the recent St Petersburg tournament (won by Andy Murray) and at the Masters Series event in Paris, where an umpire publicly accused him of not trying to get his serves in court. Murray's comment, that "everybody in the game knows [betting] goes on", was later toned down after ATP pressure.
It seems there is no end to the bad news linked to the sport at the moment. In the run-up to the Women's Tennis Association end-of-season championships in Madrid, Martina Hingis announced on 1 November that she had tested positive for cocaine at Wimbledon this summer and was retiring, for the second time, at the age of 27.
Hot on the heels of this came allegations that the German player Tommy Haas had been poisoned during a Davis Cup match in Russia in September. Investigations are ongoing.
To the dismay of the International Tennis Federation, the sport's governing body, what look suspiciously like skeletons keep popping out of various cupboards. Jan Hernych, a Czech, says he was offered bribes to throw two matches in Russia last year, while Russia's Dmitry Tursunov, America's Paul Goldstein, France's Arnaud Clement and Gilles Elseneer of Belgium all claim to have declined bribes to lose matches. Elseneer's bribery attempt, he said, came at Wimbledon in 2005.
Alarmed, representatives of the sport's governing bodies met in London last month to begin creating "an internal watchdog structure", dubbed the Tennis Integrity Unit.
What perhaps also ought to be happening is more than the bland ATP statement issued this weekend on the eve of the Masters: "Honesty and integrity are critical in our sport. That is why we are engaged in a serious, comprehensive and thorough independent investigation to ascertain whether anything of concern took place in that [Davydenko] match. Further public comment at this time would be inappropriate."
Out of court: The players and the allegations
Alessio di Mauro, world rank no 124 The 31-year-old Italian was banned for nine months for betting on matches between 2/11/06 and 12/6/07. The former world no 68 is the first penalised under the anti-corruption programme of the ATP, governing body of men's tennis.
Tommy Haas, no 13 An investigation has been launched into allegations by a Russian journalist that Haas was poisoned while playing for Germany against Russia in the Davis Cup in Moscow.
Nikolay Davydenko, no 4 Source of rumour and allegation after warning by an umpire on two occasions for not trying hard enough. Also under investigation for a match he lost against world no 87 Martin Vassallo Arguello.
Andy Murray, no 11
Britain's Andy Murray caused controversy last month by talking about corruption in the sport. He said: "All the players know it goes on." He watered down his remarks after being rebuked by world no 2 Rafael Nadal, saying: "I never once said players fixed matches."
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