Throwing the Match: The Issue of Match-Fixing in Tennis

Unfortunately, at the start of the first Grand Slam event of the year, the Australian Open, Buzzfeed and the BBC have released a report on match-fixing in the tennis community. This is a very serious issue in this sport, as any type of cheating is serious in any sport. While in the back of our minds we are aware that this is possible, we don’t really think about it. This report is definitely concerning as it is accusing the governing bodies of Tennis (ITF, Grand Slam Board, ATP, WTA) and the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) of not taking the necessary actions to address the issue. This accusation should not be taken lightly and the governing bodies of tennis have issued a joint statement outlining how the TIU investigates claims seriously and reviews evidence brought forth as match-fixing is difficult to prove since matches in themselves are unpredictable.

The way that Buzzfeed/BBC and others investigate it is through betting patterns. Matches that have suspicious betting patterns could suggest match-fixing. However, there are many cases, almost all tennis matches, where matches have many twists and turns, but no odd betting patters, so it is definitely possible for a large momentum swing, without match-fixing. When matches are fixed, it taints any tournament it happens at, since if one match is fixed, it changes the course of the tournament, and with the effect tournaments have on the rankings, it effects the tour. It is unacceptable and players should be punished if found guilty of match-fixing.

While this article sheds light on an important problem in the tennis community, this article has several key problems. The big one being that it doesn’t name any names, aside from Nikolay Davydenko, Martin Vassallo Arguello, and and Daniel Köllerer. However, they make it a point that some of these players are playing right now at the Australian Open, and that several have been, or are currently in the top 50. Roger Federer has already stated that he would like to hear names. The reporters say they are deliberately leaving out names despite the fact they have all this evidence. While it can be to protect these players since these are only just accusations, if they have overwhelming evidence, they should present it. I respect not naming names, except for the fact that they detail the Davydenko-Vassallo Arguello case. Since Davydenko was a top 5 player then and afterwards, that is a lofty accusation to throw around. While, it is possible, he was never found guilty of such an offense. Part of the reason to name names is to get the information out there. The reporters are being cautious and I respect that, but at some point the information has to come out, or these players can continue to live in the shadows.

The last issue is the timing of this article. It was released right at the beginning of the Australian Open, and not by coincidence. Grand Slam tournaments get the most media attention of all tournaments in tennis, and releasing a jaw-dropping article during one of these events, gives it the most traction. However, it also takes away from the tournament itself, especially when accusing players that are playing in this very edition of the event. So while this decision makes sense from a traction point of view, it casts concerns over the tournament, and may not be the best time to release it if you are going to accuse players, but not say who.

Match-fixing should not be taken lightly, and the TIU and governing bodies of tennis should be vigilant. While I may not agree with their reporting or timing, it is an important issue that must be addressed. Match-fixing is disgraceful and has no place in this sport that I and many others love.

Podcast: Online Digital Platforms in the Tennis World

Sources and Information

Tennis sounds were taken from freeSFX.

WTA website and ATP World Tour website.

Roger Federer’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

ESPN article of Djokovic Press Conference and Federer Interview.

ESPN article of Djokovic’s response.

Agniezska Radwanska sound clip.

WTA Insider podcasts.

Federer’s partner announcement for Rio 2016:

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Federer 2016 schedule announcement:

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Agnieszka Radwanska Q&A:

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Great Britain Wins Davis Cup! Season Complete.

With world number 2 Andy Murray leading the charge, Great Britain wins its first Davis Cup title in 79 years. Unlike the Czech team in the Fed Cup, the British Davis Cup team is not lined with the top stars in the game. Last year was the first year that Great Britain returned to World Group action in a long time with a win over the United States. They then competed in the first round this year with a repeat victory over the American team. After that they went on to beat France, Australia, and then Belgium in the Davis Cup final.

It started out well for Belgium with Goffin defeating Edmund in a five set bout. After that, it was all Andy Murray who competed in two singles matches, and the doubles match with brother Jamie as well. If it was not for the Murrays, especially Andy, the British team would not have been able to go this far. Andy Murray competed in both the singles and doubles throughout most of the year notching the crucial three points in order to gain victories in each tie.

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Andy Murray is victorious in the Davis Cup final

Murray was a elated with the victory and said:

“It feels amazing. I never thought we would have the opportunity to do this. I can’t believe we did it. It’s unbelievably tough. Tough year. We have to enjoy this because we may never have an opportunity to do this again as a team.”

It was a great day for Great Britain and their fans. Now the season is complete and the players will be able to get some rest after a long almost 11 month season. However, not all players will be vacationing or training until the tour resumes on January 4th. Some players will also compete in either the International Premier Tennis League or the Champions Tennis League, which are team tennis events. But the official season is now over.

The End of the Season. Almost.

The ATP World Tour Finals is the season ending championship of the ATP World Tour. It is just like the WTA Finals, where the top eight players compete in a round robin format, where the top two players in each group advance to the single elimination stage, and the semi-finals.

The results were as followed:

Sunday round robin with Djokovic beating Nishikori, and Federer beating Berdych

Monday round robin with Murray beating Ferrer, and Nadal beating Wawrinka

Tuesday round robin with Nishikori beating Berdych, and Federer beating Djokovic

Wednesday round robin with Nadal beating Murray, and Wawrinka beating Ferrer

Thursday round robin with Federer beating Nishikori, and Djokovic beating Berdych

Friday round robin with Nadal beating Ferrer, and Wawrinka beating Murray

Saturday semi-finals with Djokovic beating Nadal, and Federer beating Wawrinka

Sunday final with Djokovic beating Federer

From these results, we see a few interesting occurrences. The first one being that Djokovic and Federer split their matches with Federer winning in the round robin, and Djokovic winning the championship match. There was a little bit of controversy after Djokovic said:

“Credit to Roger for mixing up the pace, giving me always a different ball. He used the slice and spin very wisely. He served very efficiently. I made a lot of, lot of unforced errors. Just handed him the win, especially in the second set.”

It was reported that Djokovic said he ‘handed’ the match, and Federer responded by saying:

“Well, he wasn’t as good as in the first set. But I feel, honestly, with the way he’s played this season, you still have to put him away. It’s not an easy thing to do. It’s not like he played terrible. I know he can play better. Why did he play that way? I’d like to give myself credit for that, quite honestly, yeah.”

This was talked about in the media for the next few days until he responded to a question at a press conference two days later after beating Berdych and said:

“Whoever created that story, I don’t know what to say. It’s not fair. There is no need to create any kind of bad blood between Roger and me because I said what I needed to say, that he deserved to win that match, he was a better player. I said that I was disappointed with my level, but that has nothing to do with me handing the victory. This is ridiculous.”

This begs the question why the media was trying to spark to spark a controversy by focusing on the phrasing ‘handed the victory’ in the headlines. If you read the full quote, Djokovic does give Federer credit for the win, and was just saying how disappointed he was in himself for not stepping it up. The media was over zealous when talking about his comments.

The other storyline that struck me was how Murray declined in the event. Murray had previously discussed skipping the finals in favor of preparing for the Davis Cup final the following weekend, but reconsidered this plan when the ATP stated that it was mandatory and a fine would be imposed for missing it. From the results of the matches it seemed like Murray, though participating, did not play at his best with the Davis Cup tie in the back of his mind.

The result being that world number 1 Novak Djokovic retained his ATP World Tour Finals crown for the fourth consecutive year in a row. And that concluded the season. . . except for the Davis Cup final.

Czech Out the Fed Cup Winners

Over the weekend was the Fed Cup Finals between the Czech Republic and Russia. Leading the way for the Czech Republic was Petra Kvitova, and the anchor for the Russian team was Maria Sharapova. Sharapova won both of her matches for Team Russia, but it was not enough to defeat the Czech Republic team. The Czech team has been dominant in Fed Cup play winning the title four times in the past five years. They have many top players competing for them, which makes them a force in Fed Cup competition.

The Fed Cup is an annual women’s team-based tournament, where players represent their nation in the competition. It is divided into multiple divisions with the World Group being the top division. Only a team competing in the World Group can win the Fed Cup that year. The other teams work through the other divisions for a chance to eventually be promoted to the World Group and compete for the Fed Cup title. However, there are many countries that have never reached that level because of the lack of talent and resources to train top tennis players.

The Fed Cup often struggles to attract top players to compete, since it does not provide ranking points, unlike the Davis Cup. Top players only compete if the title is on the line to add to their list of accomplishments, but if their national team is in a lower division, it is less likely that they would want to compete. However, as they close into the olympics, players will increase their participation if Fed Cup since the ITF sets a minimum requirement to be allowed to participate in olympic competition.

It is likely that the Czech Republic will maintain dominance over the Fed Cup in years to come because of the strength of their team. The top players of the Czech Republic have great pride for representing their country in Fed Cup. They more regularly play Fed Cup ties than other top players, which is why the Czech Republic tends to do so well.

Twist and Turn Tennis in Singapore and Zhuhai

The final tournaments of the year are the year-end championships. The WTA has two of them. The main event, for the top eight players, is in Singapore. The one is Zhuhai is for those ranked nine through nineteen. The winner of the WTA Finals in Singapore was Agnieszka Radwanska, who won the title despite losing her first two matches, which has been a subject of minor controversy. Venus, on the other hand, won all four of her matches. Since they both feature round robins, it is possible to lose a match, or two in Singapore, and still win the tournament, which was the case with Radwanska.

Singapore results:

Sunday with Halep defeating Pennetta, and Sharapova defeating Radwanska.

Monday with Muguruza defeating Safarova, and Kerber defeating Kvitova.

Tuesday with Pennetta defeating Radwanska, and Sharapova defeating Halep.

Wednesday with Kvitova defeating Safarova, and Muguruza defeating Kerber.

Thursday with Radwanska defeating Halep, and Sharapova defeating Pennetta.

Friday with Muguruza defeating Kvitova, and Safarova defeating Kerber.

Saturday Semifinals with Radwanska defeating Muguruza, and Kvitova defeating Sharapova.

Sunday Finals with Radwanska defeating Kvitova.

If you go by the day-by day analysis of Singapore, everyone loses at least one match and three people (Radwanska, Sharapova, Muguruza) won three matches. This was the first WTA Finals in history that was won by someone who lost her first two matches.

This was a major victory for Radwanska. The biggest title of her career. Some would say that it went undeservingly due to losing her first two matches. However, it is about how you end that matters.

Racing to the WTA Finals in Singapore!

The top players are racing to make the final event of the each tour! This event is the most prestigious after the four Grand Slam tournaments, and it is every players at the beginning of the year to qualify. It works the same for both the ATP and the WTA. The top 8 singles players, and top 8 doubles players will make it into the draw. The actual tournament is a round robin format in singles. The players are split into two groups, and the top 2 players from each group advance to the semifinals of the single-elimination phase. The doubles at the WTA Finals and the ATP World Tour Finals follows the same format as singles. I’ll put the ATP World Tour Finals aside since there is abound a month and a lot of points up for grabs.

With only 10 days out, only 4 players have enough points to ensure qualification in singles! That’s ridiculous! In years past, 4 or more players would have qualified before the beginning of October. This year has been different due to the increased amount of competition in the top 20. There is very little among the players that is separating them in the rankings. There is no player, other than Serena Williams, who has had a consistently solid year. Only 3 players qualified this year before September: Serena, Simona Halep, and Maria Sharapova. However, Halep had a rough patch losing in the early rounds during the clay court and grass court seasons. Sharapova lost has played one match since losing to Serena at Wimbledon, so there is a question as to whether or not she will even be able to play.

Agnieszka Radwanska in Tianjin looking to win the title and qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore

We already know that Serena has no plans to play due to a loss of motivation, so if Sharapova withdraws, then only one of the top 3 players will compete in Singapore. Halep has also had injury struggles recently so it is possible that the Finals will have none of the top 3 players. Alright, that is definitely a stretch, but there have been many injuries and emotional struggles throughout the season. I also plan to write that story soon as well. For now, my point is that this year’s Finals is unique in that we still don’t know who will be competing. Garbiñe Mugurza qualified after making the final of Beijing, and the fourth qualifier (instead of fifth due to Serena’s withdrawal) was announced just yesterday: Petra Kvitova. The next two potential qualifiers are Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska, who are guaranteed spots if they win their current tournaments in Hong Kong and Tianjin, respectively.

This week we will see tournaments in Linz, Hong Kong, and Tianjin come to an end. That will leave the tournaments in Moscow and Luxembourg as the final hopes for a handful of players who are still in reach of the Finals. For me the best bests are Kerber, Radwanska, Safarova, and either Pennetta or Bacsinszky. We will find out soon enough, and I will be looking forward to what the WTA Finals has in store.