Davydenko, Tennis Involved in Betting Investigation
by Sean Randall | August 3rd, 2007, 1:29 pm

With many of the top sports mired in negative controversy the last few weeks – NFL’s Michael Vick indicted in connection with dog fighting, an NBA ref was busted for taking part in a betting ring, baseball continuing ongoing steroid battle as Barry Bonds chases the most revered record in sports, and then of course the Tour de France drug scandals – tennis was out in the clear, looking good and sitting pretty basking in the summer sunshine.

Well, not anymore.

Just when you think that criminal interests cannot impact tennis, it does, or at least there’s suspicion to believe it did yesterday in Sopot. While It may not be as damaging as the aforementioned scandals, it’s not a pretty picture.

The bookmaker, Betfair, says it spotted irregular betting patterns in the match yesterday involving Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello, which Davydenko lost in the third set retiring with a foot injury.

Davydenko was the heavy favorite going into the match but he slowly became the underdog despite winning the first set 6-2.

With over $7 million wagered on the match according to Betfair and the fact that large bets were being placed on Arguello even as he was losing, Betfair was prompted to take a closer look and suspend any payouts from the match and notify the ATP as part of its investigation.
At issue, just why the heck was big money being placed on Arguello even as he was losing? Clearly someone knew something.

The English paper The Guardian spoke to a Betfair “punter” who had this to say on the matter: “It has become increasingly obvious recently that there are a significant number of ‘fixed’ tennis matches being played. It is obvious to anyone with some experience of the normal Betfair market behaviour and the appropriate odds for a tennis match that certain low-level ATP matches are being fixed, with corresponding irrational market patterns.”


So does tennis have a wide-spread betting problem? Let’s hope not, but I think it would be naïve to think that it 100% doesn’t exist or hasn’t happed before, especially at lower level, under the radar type events like Sopot.

And if does happen it figures to be in a match like Davydenko-Arguello and not in big events or late rounds at Slams when there’s more of a public eye.

How could it work? Simple. I’m just speculating of course, but what if a top seed was offered three times the prize money that he would make for winning the title at a small event, provided he lost a certain early round match to a heavy underdog.

If the top seed agrees to take the dive, the criminal organization bets big on the underdog, makes that money back and then some, and pays out the seed for carrying out his/her end of the deal.

Of course there’s the issue of missed ranking points for the player – there’s no price on those, right? – but for top players the points in the smaller tournaments may not make much of an impact in the overall rankings.

That’s just one of many possible scenarios so you can see where it could be enticing. In the case of Sopot (again, I’m just speculating), if you were a top player and were offered $250,000 or more to lose in the second round vs. the $80,000 you could win at most for taking the title, maybe you give it a look.

Has this actually happened before? Probably, but I can’t prove it of course. And i doubt it happens a lot (i hope!). And we’ll likely never know the truth to what happened in that Davydenko-Arguello match. Though the temptation is there.

Contrary to popular belief, tennis players do not make that much money, especially when compared to other sports. Outside of the top names – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova the Williams sisters and a few others – earning major dollars on the tennis circuit can be a tough go.

Davydenko last year earned just over $2 million, a great payday for folks like us, but for the number three ranked player in a major international sport that’s not a lot (it’s the same as the #32 golfer on the PGA tour, Tim Clark, made last year). And don’t think that fact isn’t lost on Davydenko – who struggles to get even a major clothing sponsor – or on other players.

So maybe some players do look to make a little extra cash on the side. (And i’m not saying Davydenko did it!)

Fact is, and I’m not here to knock Davydenko or tennis, but the temptation to cross the lines is there and will likely always be there in not only tennis but in all sports when you have criminal interests mixing with young, star athletes. Tennis, however, might lend itself better to such manipulation than team sports in that you only need to get to one player to impact or “fix” an outcome.

And it doesn’t help when you hear of players spending off-court time at card table casinos, or see them holding poker chips in a US Open commercial, or listening to ex-coaches on TV talk of where they might place a wager if they could. That doesn’t make them guilty in any way, but you can see that the gambling culture is there.

But fixing the outcome of a sporting contest, be it in tennis or any other sport, is a serious issue. It asks the question, “is what we are watching real or is it just fake entertainment.” The NBA has been dealing with that the last few weeks. Now, unfortunately, so too is tennis.

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12 Comments for Davydenko, Tennis Involved in Betting Investigation

beerme Says:

great blog, u know that shit happens its just a matter of when one of them gets caught. agreed davydenko is the perfect fall guy, gets no respect, he might help the russian mob make a load of cash.

grendel Says:

Sean points out that outside a few big names, tennis players don’t earn so much. I’ve always wondered how those guys playing the challenge tournaments – and even lesser ones, come to that -how they survive. Especially considering the constant travel. Can’t hitchhike over the oceans, can you? And no such thing as a cheap hotel, these days.

It bear some thinking about that the gap in tennis skill between a top ten player and a player in the late hundreds, say, is actually quite small. Put Federer or Nadal against, say, number 732 (who might he be, I wonder?) in some bleak club court with nobody watching – who’s to say who’d win?

It’s a hard world, and a wonder there’s not a lot more corruption. Of course, for the lowly ranked players, there may not be much scope for wrongdoing. You have to be nearly there, in sight of the top, before temptation can get a foothold…..

allcourt Says:

I’m thinking, or maybe I’m hoping, that this particular incident may be more a matter of someone knowing more detailed information about Davydenko’s foot injury and using it than it is any big gambling conspiracy.

penise Says:

davy could be threatened into it as well; russian mob is scary

zeg Says:

Good points, Sean.
I believe tennis matches are being thrown.
It is not hard to do and there are plenty of opportunities. The way to deal with it is to hand down a lifetime ban from the sport. Maybe even a criminal prosecution with cancellation of all previous titles and prize money. The punishment has to be severe enough to discourage anyone from even contemplating cheating, or else tennis will be competing for the audience with “professional” wrestling.

zeg Says:

Speaking of mafia – what the hell is wrong with ESPN????
They were supposed to show Roddick-Lee match live from Washington, it is going on right now. Instead they are showing a taped WTA match, while TTC is showing its usual vomit-inducing rerun for only 135946th time…Oh, and another ESPN channel is showing American Gladiators. Maybe the infamous roadtrip took a detour when the stupid bus tried to cross a Minneapolis bridge.
After all the hype, after megatons of crap from ESPN over the years, it is still hard to believe how they treat the tennis fans.
Here’s to hoping not one American makes it to the second round of the US Open.

migazo Says:

Well, after yesterday match, ATP can start investigate also the match between Montañes – Vassallo Arguello, again the argie involved….

Vassallo was the underdog this time going to the match. Despite that fact, he won easily the 1st set 6-2 with great stats on his serve (91% 1st serve, 75% 2nd serve).

Despite of that, price didn’t drift as much as usual in other matches.
He got to 4-1 up in the 2nd set and he was still available to back in betfair at odds of 1.85!!!!!!

Again, “strange betting patterns” on this match.
And all of sudden, Vassallo lost that set by 4-6.
And lost in the third by 2-6.

But instead of also voiding the match today they paid.

It’s the third match including Vassallo this week with strange betting behaviours, add the Volandri match to that and only this week.

Sopot last year was also a tournament who made much talking with these kind of strange matches.

I have no doubts that a player sacrifices the overall price for being winner of the tournament and playing all week when he can make probably more “under the table” cash by fixing a 1st round match and spent the rest of the week resting for the next tournament.

As you said, if even Davydenko needs to knock on sponsors doors to get his shirts i can’t imagine how deep is the “mafia” with those Top 50, top 100.

funches Says:

For the person who wondered how challenger-level players pay for their hotels, the hotel is paid for by the tournament at most events.

Xav Says:

I remember that it’s not the first time that there is suspision about matches being fixed.
I believe that a few years ago, there was doubt about matches with Kafelnikov.

alex Says:

I do believe that Davydenko may be involved. Yes the Russian mafia ia scary, and look at his wife, she looks like someone who can appreciate money, a lot more than the 2 million he is earning. But of course to prove all these is impossible. But Davydenko better watch it from now on, for once you are involved with these guys, there is no way out.

Fuentes Says:

Tennis players (along with soccer players)make up most of the 200 patients in the Operacion Puerto Blood doping scandal in Spain maybe >80 users: police leaks include THE top boys from Spain and a small country south of Germany.

Only the 34 cyclists on the list have been investigated: ATP and FIFA apparently don’t want the scandal and marketing damage an investigation wd bring

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[…] This story is a couple days old, but worth refreshing. On the heels on Nikolay Davenko’s investigation last month, I wrote about how tennis is an easy target for criminal organizations looking to cash in by fixing matches. Well, things are not getting any better for tennis. […]

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