Spectre of betting descends on women's tennis

Five or six players on the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tour have been approached to throw tennis matches, tour chairperson Larry Scott said on Tuesday.

“I’ve said several initially, and I think five or six would be in the ballpark,” Scott said. “I don’t want to go into any more details because it’s part of an investigation.

“But we were surprised by the amount of gambling on tennis in general, and the number of players approached.”

Scott said that the WTA has determined that no matches have been affected by gambling. And he also has threatened any player involved with gambling on matches with a life ban.

“We’re very pleased about a couple of things,” said Scott.
“One, that the players have been responsible and shared the information and secondly, that from what we have seen so far, there is no proof that there has been any corruption by the players or anyone around the players.

“While this represents a significant threat that got our attention, it also caused us to focus in a different way, in a more intense way, to get ahead of the curve, be proactive and to prevent the threat from becoming a problem.”

The issue of possible corruption was raised in men’s tennis after an online betting site in August voided all wagers on a match in Poland between Nikolay Davydenko and 87th-ranked Martin Vassallo Arguello because of irregular betting patterns. Davydenko withdrew from the match in the third set, citing a foot injury.

Since then, several Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) players have come forward to say they have been approached with offers to fix matches for money.

The ATP opened an investigation into the Davydenko match, interviewing him and his wife and reviewing telephone records. No findings have been announced.

Vassallo Arguello, who lost his first-round Australian Open match on Monday to American Jesse Levine in straight sets, said he was questioned by ATP investigators about “seven or eight” matches in which the momentum changed during the match.

“They were all matches that I was winning and I lose, or all matches that I was losing and then I win,” he said. “I could say that about 20 000 matches.”

Late last year, three Italian pros—Potito Starace, Daniele Bracciali and Alessio Di Mauro—were suspended for betting on tennis matches involving other players.

Scott said he met with WTA players in Melbourne on Saturday and that the gambling issue “was the first item on the agenda for me”.

“I wanted to signal to the players that it was a most important issue, and my message was simple: that women’s tennis has a tremendous amount of momentum, we’ve had great success in 2007, and that this is one issue I see out there that could put a black cloud over us.

“It wasn’t the first time that we’ve discussed it, but I wanted to elevate the importance of it and be very clear with the players that we have zero tolerance, that a player caught would have a lifetime ban from the sport.”

Iroda Tulyaganova of Uzbekistan, who lost her first-round match on Tuesday to India’s Sania Mirza, attended Saturday’s meeting. She said it was important that the gambling issues were discussed.

“The public has to know that the outcome of our matches are fair, that they aren’t affected by people on the tour or off it who stand to make money from the result,” said Tulyaganova. “It’s the only way we can have any credibility.”

Mirza said she has “never been approached, and I do not know personally of anyone who has been approached” to throw matches.

“As far as we know women’s tennis is clean,” she said. “A lot has happened of course in the men’s and there is a lot of talk.

“I think there needs to be a punishment; it’s a profession.”—Sapa-AP

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