The Tennis Match Fixing Scandal


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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JANUARY 18: Roger Federer of Switzerland plays a backhand in his first round match against Nikoloz Basilashvili of Georgia during day one of the 2016 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 18, 2016 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Claire Payne, Assistant Content Editor and Staff Writer

In the past week, the Australian Open kicked off the 2016 tennis season with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the quarterfinals, a big loss for Rafael Nadal, and the end of Lleyton Hewitt’s career. Meanwhile, tennis authorities have been under close scrutiny as a recent news investigation revealed evidence for upper level match-fixing.

Buzzfeed News and the BBC published results on Monday, January 18, from a joint investigation revealing that tennis authorities did not punish male pros who were frequently flagged for suspicions that they were fixing matches, or deliberately losing in order to maximize their or others’ gambling wages. The investigation was based on leaked documents from inside the sport – the Fixing Files – and a year’s analysis of the betting activity of professional tennis matches over the past seven years.

This analysis revealed:

  • “Winners of singles and doubles titles at Grand Slam tournaments are among the core group of 16 players who have repeatedly been reported for losing games when highly suspicious bets have been placed against them.”
  • “One top-50 player competing in the Australian Open is suspected of repeatedly fixing his first set.”
  • “Players are being targeted in hotel rooms at major tournaments and offered $50,000 or more per fix by corrupt gamblers.”
  • “Gambling syndicates in Russia and Italy have made hundreds of thousands of pounds placing highly suspicious bets on scores of matches – including at Wimbledon and the French Open.”
  • “The names of more than 70 players appear on nine leaked lists of suspected fixers who have been flagged up to the tennis authorities over the past decade without being sanctioned.”

However, many tennis experts have begun to question the analysis. Dan Weston, who writes for Pinnacle Sports, said, “It’s very, very dangerous to make blasé assumptions about a match being dubious because of prematch movements.” Carl Bialik at FiveThirtyEight, pointed out that there are several ways a player could lose matches with big odds without fixing matches, such as deliberately losing early in one tournament so that they can get to another bigger upcoming tournament, betters could have confidential data on a match outcome without the player’s involvement, and the fact that betting markets could have just got the opening odds wrong.

Whether or not Buzzfeed’s analysis was correct, they are definitely onto something. Oftentimes, sports will begin to regulate themselves, so there is good reason to suspect because oversight can be negligent.