By Tom Patrick
I bet you never thought you would see the day when cockfighting has more integrity than professional tennis.
Well, it’s arrived.
In fact, it may have come years ago.
Horse tracks, boxing rings, dingy pool halls, Wimbledon — there’s definitely a lack of symmetry here. But over the last year the image of professional tennis has been dragged through the mud after allegations that players throw matches for payouts from crime syndicates.
Currently, the Association of Tennis Professionals has its dogs sniffing around the circumstances surrounding 45 matches over the last five years.
And eight of the matches being investigated took place at the most prestigious tournament of them all: Wimbledon, (which started this past Monday, by the way).
At the foreground of the scandal is number four-ranked player Nikolay Davydenko. Davydenko has faced scrutiny since last August when he withdrew from a match against Argentina’s Martin Vassallo Arguello (currently ranked 84) in a tournament in Poland, citing an ankle injury.
In the match Davydenko — who is clearly a master of positive thinking and the mental game — spoke to his wife in the stands about wanting to retire from the match.
“I spoke in the centre court with my wife … (in) Russian,” he told the Canadian Press. “Maybe it’s possible, if I can say something, ‘I don’t want to play or I can retire.’
“It may be my mistake because I need to be quiet, I need to be concentrating, I need to do only my job,” explained Davydenko.
Those with an unwavering belief in the integrity of the sport suspect that his comments may have led to a deluge of phone calls and text messages, sparking a slight growth in wagers.
The slight growth in wagers was $6.8 million — 10 times the average for a match of that calibre. (The other side of the coin is that Davydenko — who doesn’t come off as the sharpest tool in the shed — was feebly attempting to incase his eventual forfeit in plausibility.)
However, I must concede that Davydenko, in a statement given to the Press Association, defended himself with some airtight logic.
“I think there is no match fixing in tennis. As individuals and top players, why would we play fixed matches?”
Why indeed? Hmm … could it be greed?
Let’s face it, a player who doesn’t expect, or care, to make it past an early tournament round could easily be tempted to take as much as four times the money for losing a match than they’d make winning it. Especially when he/she has played, or is scheduled to play, in more tournaments than are needed to achieve their ideal ranking!
People lie, cheat and kill for money, but losing a match for some extra dough is out of the question?
Belgian player Gilles Elseneer recently admitted that he was offered about $135,000 to throw a match at Wimbledon in 2005, more than six-times what he would receive for winning a first-round match this year.
Oh, if you’re wondering how substantial a player Elseneer was, let’s just say that his highest rank, reached the year before, was 97th.
Does Davydenko believe that such offers are rejected 100 per cent of the time? Does he believe in the Easter Bunny for that matter?
But don’t turn to watching monster truck events instead, just yet. The ATP is planning to implement rules that are sure to rectify the entire situation.
Shortly, only players and coaches will allowed in players’ locker rooms before matches. Because, clearly, if players are going to risk their career and individual integrity, they’ll probably make the decision to do so moments before stepping out onto the court.
Problem solved … wait, do they get cellphone reception in there?
If that doesn’t solve things — which is hard to imagine — in the future, family members and coaches of players may be banned from betting on matches.
Seems silly, yes. I mean, what kind of inside information might they have access to? Better safe than sorry, I guess.
Still, what’s messed up about all this is that the majority of matches that are cast into doubt involve no-name players in the opening rounds of tournaments.
Why would gamblers be so keen to gamble on such matches?
I can see a hard-court finals match between Federer and Nadal enticing the gambling bug in people. But to be compelled to wager on whether Joe Schmo from Neverheardofstan will defeat John Doe from the Republic of Soundsvaguelyfamiliar, is crazy.
Then again, I’ve put money on the Toronto Maple Leafs before.