Tennis has a lot of problems with its image and how governing bodies treat their players. If it isn’t inconsistent umpiring, it’s a question of whether women should receive the same prize money as the men. And all the talk of a players’ unions in the ATP. But one of the most insidious problems in the sport is match fixing. The idea of throwing matches doesn’t only involve betting on the Premier League. There are many cases involving individual players and wide-scale betting syndication. It’s an issue that has plagued tennis for decades but never been cleaned up.
In this list, we’ll be looking at 8 such cases from, irregular betting on Wimbledon matches to allegations against grand slam champions.
Kafelnikov retired amid a betting scandal
In 2003, Yevgeny Kafelnikov lost in straight sets to World Number 68 Fernando Vicente. It was a surprise defeat for the 2-time grand slam champion and it was to be his last. He stopped playing after the match but there were suspicions around his decision.
During an investigation into the match, officials found bets placed using different credit cards. One of them belonged to Kafelnikov although he was unaware. This alerted the ATP and a Major Offence investigation started two weeks later. There were rumours that he stopped playing tennis to avoid prosecution but he has denied those claims.
Grand slam finalists offered bribes to fix matches
Former Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement admitted he refused a bribe to lose a match in the past but wouldn’t disclose where or by whom. He said he feared there’d be repercussions to his career by divulging more which could give a sign of how serious the bribe was.
He wasn’t the first player to admit he was offered a bribe. Novak Djokovic was offered $200,000 to fix a match in 2006 by someone in his team but denied it was a widespread issue. Sam Groth also revealed someone on social media offered him a bribe in 2017. The person offered him money to lose a match in straight sets at the Aegon Open that year.
Nikolay Davydenko accused of match fixing in 2007
Yet another high-profile player found himself caught in match fixing controversy back in 2007. Nikolay Davydenko was a 3-time grand slam semi-finalist when he was accused of match fixing (he would reach a fourth grand slam semi-final, weeks after the match in question). In the allegedly thrown match, Davydenko played World Number 82 Martín Vassallo Argüello in the Orange Prokom Open. Davydenko was #4 at the time and the match was one set all before he retired at 2-1 to Argüello due to a foot injury. It wasn’t the first time he’d gone out in the first round (this was his third in three consecutive tournaments) but there were suspicious bets placed on UK betting exchange Betfair that raised more than a few eyebrows. The bets in question were on Argüello to win the match when the match didn’t seem to be heavily in his favour. Betfair notified the ATP and it was later found that 9 people in Russia had placed $1.5m on Davydenko to lose and two others were to win $6m from that result. The inquiry, which was the longest match-fixing inquiry in tennis history at the time, concluded with Davydenko and Argüello cleared of any involvement.
The Buzzfeed-BBC investigation involving European betting syndicates
We’ve all heard of films involving Sicilian Mafia mobsters and they might seem like dramatised recollections. But Sicily is home to one of many European betting syndicates involved in a widespread investigation back in 2016. Syndicated from Northern Italy and Russian were also suspected of dodgy betting and reporters examined cases from 26,000 matches.
The reports included:
• 16 players from the world’s top 50 were repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit for throwing matches but allowed to continue playing
• Large sums were placed on suspected “fixed” matches thought to – including three at Wimbledon
• 28 more players should have been investigated but nothing was followed up
Nicolas Kicker banned for match-fixing
Argentinian player Nicolas Kicker was a regular Futures/Challenger competitor when The Tennis Integrity Unit found him guilty of match-fixing in 2018. This sentencing came from the outcome of Challenger matches in Padova and Barranquilla in 2015. Due to his lack of co-operation with the investigation, the TIU fined him $25,000 and suspended him for 6 years with half of that time suspended if Kicker didn’t commit any further breaches of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.
Daniel Koellerer match-fixing scandal
Imagine someone choking you in a tennis match. Daniel Koellerer can. The incident happened in an Austrian league match with Stefan Koubek, who grabbed Köllerer by the throat during a changeover. Koubek had claimed Köllerer insulted him during the match and was disqualified. But that’s not a match Köllerer threw. Instead, he lent his unsportsmanlike conduct. In 2011, the TIU handed its first ever lifetime ban, finding him guilty of three charges under the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program. Before that, they had suspended him for three months. The charge related to him using his own website to promote tennis betting. He appealed the ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2012 but lost, although they reduced his ban saying Koellerer did not make any financial gain from the incident.
Karim Hossam, the prodigy who fell from grace
Can you name the last Egyptian tennis star? The closest you’d get is Ismail El Shafei, who was one of only 4 players to beat Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon. Karim Hossam was set to eclipse that level when he made moves on the junior tour. He made his professional main draw debut in 2014 but the prospect of money from throwing matches appealed more than the hard slog of lower-level tennis. He started losing matches on purpose at a local Futures tournament. That lead to a four-year fixing spree across Africa to fund his career. Even after he was caught, he was still found to be offering money to players for them to throw matches. A sorry end to a bright talent.
Marco Cecchinato’s fall and rise
And finally, we have Marco Cecchinato. You remember that name from the 2018 French Open, where he beat Novak Djokovic in the fourth round. At the time of writing, he is the last person to have beaten him in a grand slam since. But his past wasn’t as rosy. In 2016, Cecchinato was suspended for 18 months and fined €40,000 for “illegal behavior including match fixing and match betting.” The charge related to the outcome of one of Moroccan Challenger match in 2015. Evidence was allegedly found to incriminate the Italian in betting against himself. Cecchinato always denied the allegation and was later acquitted of all charges. When he returned to the tour in 2018, he went onto win a challenger in Santiago, his first two ATP titles and a semi-final finish at the French Open, beating Djokovic and Goffin en route.
Many of the top players have come out to deny any kind of widespread issue with match-fixing in tennis. ATP president Chris Kermode went as far as saying match-fixing within tennis was at an ‘incredibly small level’. But looking at the addressed claims – justified or otherwise – it doesn’t look small enough to ignore. The Tennis Integrity Unit was established to keep order just as the UK Gambling Commission was to ensure new online casinos adhere to their rules in the gambling industry. This isn’t an issue that will go away and more needs to be done.