The Tennis Integrity Unit banned three Thai chair umpires from tennis for life after the three admitted to match-fixing. The three judges — Anucha Tongplew, Apisit Promchai, and Chitchai Srililai — admitted to wagering on the ITF Futures tournaments in 2017.
The ATP and WTA have taken a variety of steps to combat match-fixing in pro tennis over the past ten years. The chief step was to create the Tennis Integrity Unit in 2008, after rumors swirled in the tennis media that players might be involved in match-fixing.
The Tennis Integrity Unity polices activity on the ATP, WTP, International Tennis Federation (ITF), and all four Grand Slam tennis tournaments: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and U.S. Open.
Davydenko v. Vassallo
Major questions arose about Nikolay Davydenko, a Top 10 player on the ATP during the decade of the 2000s, in 2008. During a 2007 Polish Open match between Davydenko and Martin Vassallo, suspicious betting activity took place. Betfair voided all bets for the match and the tennis media published many stories questioning Davydenko, who had been the World No. 3 as recently as November 2006.
Eventually, Davydenko had his name cleared in 2016, but rumors of match-fixing hounded him for years. Part of the scandal was the fact Nikolay Davydenko was from Russia, because a number of Russian NHL hockey players have complained over the years of attempts by organized crime back in Russia to get them to throw hockey matches. When a series of suspicious bets came from Russia (and Northern Italy), Betfair took notice.
Nikolay Davydenko was a fantastically successful pro tennis player. He played in four Grand Slam finals, won three ATP World Series, and the 2009 ATP Masters Series. Davydenko generated enough winnings in tennis he had little to gain and a lot to lose by fixing matches. While he might have been extorted into doing so by the Russian mob, it is unlikely he ever would have entered into such a scheme willingly. The ATP found the charges against him lacked credibility.
ITF Futures Tournament Match Fixing
The truth is, most match-fixing is going to take place at lower level events. The ITF Futures Tournament is just the kind of event one would expect to find match-fixing taking place. The players are high enough up the hierarchy of tennis to make their matches notable. Local bettors might place wagers on the ITF-organized events.
At the same time, judges and players do not make enough cash to make match-fixing prohibitive.
Djokovic Claimed Fixers Tried to Get to Him
Event at the ATP and WTA level, match fixers likely try to get to players. At the beginning of the 2016 Australian Open, then-World No. 1 player Novak Djokovic recounted an attempt by match fixers to get to him at the St. Petersburg Open years before.
While he did not give full details of how the attempt was made, Djokovic made it clear that it was early in his career when he might have needed money, though he was adamant he never threw matches. It also was after Djokovic had beat top players, so his matches were more in doubt than matches with qualifiers might be.
Anyone who knows of Novak Djokovic’s intense drive since the time he was 12-years old to improve his tennis game and be a world’s class player knows Djokovic would not throw matches, but the fact fellow players like Fabrice Santoro had to come to Djokovic’s defense shows how even the whiff of scandal can taint a player’s reputation.
10 Players Flagged to TIU
In that same year, a joint BBC-Buzzfeed report said bookmakers had “repeatedly flagged to the Tennis Integrity Unit” 10 players on the ATP and WTA. The report stated that the list of players included “Grand Slam winners”. Any such accusations, if proven credible, would have been damaging to the sport of tennis in a profound way.
At the time, the New Zealand Herald wrote an article that described all the ways a professional tennis match could be fixed.
One of the ways stated was “spot fixing“, where, much like in cricket, a player throws a wager during a particular spot of the match. That type of cheating was a great concern in 2016, because live in-play betting was becoming a concern to ATP and WTO officials.
High rollers would hire spotters to attend tennis matches, then give quick updates of results. According to some major media stories at the time, tennis sitters could relay results quick enough to high rollers they could get off a bet before online betting sites’ software stopped betting — giving them sure things.
Sportradar’s Improvements to Online Betting
Two years later, most online sports betting sites use Sportradar or another sports data collection service to speed up their collation. Tennis no longer has stories about paid spotters in the crowd texting results to high rollers. Instead, cheaters have to gain an edge the old-fashioned way — by paying off either players or judges.
In many ways, chair umpires taking bribes to fix matches is even more devious and toxic. When players throw matches, at least they are making a conscious decision to put their career at risk. When a chair umpire fixes a match, they are playing with the careers of up-and-coming players. Such decisions can derail lives and careers of young athletes, who already deal with incredible pressures to achieve at an early age.