Tennis Integrity Unit Investigates Suspicious Betting Pattern on US Open Match
A U.S. Open match between Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia and Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland is being investigated for suspicious betting activity the Tennis Integrity Unit. The TIU is pro tennis’s primary anticorruption body in monitoring for signs of match fixing.
The match being investigated took place on August 30th between 15th-seeded Timea Bacsinszky, who was a heavy favorite over Vitalia Diatchenko, a 26-year old Russian whose career highest WTA singles ranking is No. 71. Bacsinszky defeated Diatchenko rather predictably, but the 6-1, 6-1 drubbing still alerted the TIU officials, who use advanced technology to monitor in-play betting patterns.
Fonbet Reported Suspicious Activity
The Russian bookmaker Fonbet sent a “match alert” regarding suspicious betting to the Tennis Integrity Unit. Bet365, a well-known UK online sportsbook, suspended betting for two matches during the Bacsinszky-Diachenko match, along with decreasing the maximum wagers allowed. Both are signs that the bookmaker site believes suspicious betting activity is taking place.
Mark Harrison, a spokesman for the Tennis Integrity Uit, declined to give details into the probe. Harrison said, “While T.I.U. is not prepared to answer detailed questions on the grounds of operational confidentiality, I can confirm that the match in question is the only one [which was] subject to a better alert reported to T.I.U. at the U.S. Open.”
Tennis Integrity Unit Press Statement
The integrity unit’s spokesman added, “As with all cases, the T.I.U. will assess, make a judgment, and take appropriate action on the alert information received and obtained.”
The spokesman emphasized that an “alert on its own is not evidence of match fixing.”
USTA Expresses Confidence in Investigators
Chris Widmaier, a USTA spokesman, expressed confidence in the TIU’s ability to handle the case. Mr. Widmaier also urged caution on the part of the media and the public in making assumptions about the probe.
Widmaier said, “Betting alerts need to be investigated, but they’re certainly not gospel. It does not necessarily indicate any nefarious doings.”
The most dramatic and suspicious form of match faxing involves betting on the favorite to lose to the underdog, like the 1919 Black Sox Scandal in Major League Baseball. That hardly applies to the Bacsinszky-Diatchenko match, which had the eventual winner as the prohibitive favorite. The odds of Bacsinszky winning the match were 1:33, meaning a person would have to gamble $33 to win $1. It is hard to imagine a high stakes gambler choosing such a match to make a fortune on, because the return-on-investment would be relatively small. Even match fixers have to worry about an athlete backing out of the deal.
Another form of wager would allow big winnings from such a match, though. Side wagers can be made on the specific score of a one-sided match. If someone bet that Timea Bacsinsky would win 6-1, 6-1 — an unlikely outcome — then they could win a lot of money with a side wager.
How Spot-Fixing Works
To fix such a bet is what’s called “spot fixing”. It is the tennis equivalent of point-shaving in basketball or American football. One athlete is paid to shape the final score of the game. In such a case, Timea Bacsinsky could not be expected to play harder or better to win 6-1, 6-1. Instead, Vitalia Diatchenko would be paid to lose by a specific score.
That is the reason Mark Harrison and Chris Widmaier are careful not to point fingers or encourage speculation: even the whiff of controversy could hurt a tennis player’s career. Tennis players spend most of their childhood years and all of their young adult lives trying to improve. It is incredibly hard to reach No. 71 in the world in tennis, so a player should be respected enough to assume they will not throw a match they’ve trained most of their lives to win.
A Year of Suspicions for Tennis
At the same time, tennis faces a serious crisis with the advent of in-play betting, which allows instant live betting on tennis matches (and other events). With live betting, a high roller can send a courtsiders to a match and have them report winning points and games before sportsbooks know who won. That high roller can place bets on a known outcome, if they are fast enough.
The subject of match fixing was a major issue in this year’s Australia Open, which took place back in January 2016. Reports suggested the Tennis Integrity Unit had investigated prominent players as far back as 2007-2008, yet continued to allow those players to participate in events. Even world No. 1 Novak Djokavic was questioned about rumors of a fixed match back in 2008, when he was still a rising star in the sport. Djokavic dismissed the rumors, but said his entourage had been contacted about throwing a match in St. Petersburg years ago.
The BBC and Buzzfeed jointly reported that the TIU investigated match fixing back in 2008, eventually deciding that a match fixing ring centered on Northern Italy and Russia probably existed. It was thought those fixing matches in Northern Italy had ties to Russian organized crime.
NY Times Interview with Diatchenko
After the suspicious betting activity became known, Diatchenko conducted an interview with The New York Times. In that interview, the Russian tennis player said, “I don’t know what to say, really. I play my tennis. Maybe people know I’m not in my best form?”
Diatchenko added, “If you come and see me play today, I think you will understand. In the first set and the second set, it was the same. It was on and off, my level. It’s really difficult to play a full match. I have some advantages in the first set and the same in the second set. But it’s tough.”
Vitalia Diatchenko was joking when she said that people might know she’s not in her best form right now, but that might be a hint to a third intepretation of the suspicious betting patterns.
Betting on Injuries
The U.S. Open is the last of the four tennis majors. Many players and fan alike see the U.S. Open as the natural end to the tennis season, though it continues for some months. It is the end of the summer schedule, which is dominated for two months (after Wimbledon) by the hard court season.
Playing on a hardcourt is running on asphalt for hours at a time. It is hard on the human body, even for world class athletes. With the training needed to prepare for hardcourt matches, along with the grueling play during the actual competition, many pro tennis players deal with injuries to their ankles, knees, leg muscles, and backs. At the end of a long season, some players come into the U.S. Open with a bevy of nagging injuries.
It is possible the Vitalia Diatchenko entered the match with Timea Bacsinszky with considerable injuries she was hiding. A player does not necessarily want to let her opponent know she’s injured, whether from pride or strategy. If someone back in Russia had privileged information — second-hand or third-hand, yet reliable — that person could have made wagers based on that knowledge.
It is the reason American sports leagues insist their franchises report injuries accurately and fastidiously. The NFL just last week changed its injury report rules in order to make it harder to NFL teams to fake their reports. Sports associations want every potential gambler to have the same information, so the betting remains fair.
The point being: suspicious betting could have occurred and Vitalia Diatchenko could have no knowledge of it. Even a member of Vitalia Diatchenko’s entourage might not be a party to it, though they might have been loose with information to the wrong person.
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