Wager on enough sporting events and you’ll invariably look back on one losing bet that you know resulted from the game being more fixed than your neighbor’s poodle. It doesn’t match baseball’s Black Sox scandal or several instances of point-shaving in college basketball, but tennis’ French Open is now under investigation for possible match-fixing.
Do people really bet on tennis?
There can’t be a match-fixing scandal related to gambling without people actually laying down bets, can there? That is the crucial question and should be the end of the discussion since no one bets on tennis, right?
Well, oddly enough, people do bet on tennis the same way as they do on football or basketball. LastWordOnSports.com reported a year ago that tennis has long been a growing niche in the gambling world and may be second internationally to soccer in dollar volume.
What makes tennis so attractive is a combination of the small number of players involved – two or four per match, making it easy to follow – and the opportunity to bet on literally every point and game during the match. The proliferation of legal, online wagering around the world makes it easier than ever.
The bets are seldom on whether Serena Williams or Rafael Nadal will win an early-round match at the French Open or Wimbledon. Instead, wagering typically takes place on individual games of matches between players that even knowledgeable fans might barely know.
Prosecutors are investigating a French Open match
French prosecutors have opened an investigation into alleged match-fixing in a women’s first-round doubles match at the French Open involving players from three nations, Reuters reported.
The Sept. 30 match paired Romanians Andreea Mitu and Patricia Maria Tig against Yana Sizikova of Russia and Madison Brengle of the United States. Mitu and Tig won, 7-6 (8), 6-4, but were later eliminated in the third round.
Die Welt and L’Equipe, newspapers in Germany and France, respectively, reported that authorities spotted suspicious betting patterns in the match. Sizikova, 25, double-faulted twice in the fifth game of the second set, losing the game at love. That was preceded by large bets on the Romanians in that game originating from several countries.
The French tennis federation referred questions to the Tennis Integrity Unit, which has conducted corruption investigations since 2008 – an indication of just how long substantial gambling on the sport has existed. However, TIU spokesman Mark Harrison told The Associated Press that the organization could not comment.
According to The Guardian, Sizikova has never been ranked higher than 336th in singles and 89th in doubles. She has earned $173,451 prize money since 2010.
The COVID-19 pandemic might be a factor
Top players making hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars have little incentive to participate in fixes, but others might be more tempted. The Tennis Integrity Unit’s most noteworthy case before this year may have come in 2018 against Argentina’s Nicolas Kicker, who was suspended for six years and fined $25,000. Kicker had been ranked as high as No. 78 in the world less than a year earlier.
The TIU has handed out six lifetime bans, including one this year to Brazilian João Souza, who once rose to No. 69 in the world.
Of all the effects that the pandemic has had on sports, the one on tennis might be the oddest and yet most predictable. The ATP and WTA tours have all but shut down since March, with the emphasis on conducting the U.S. Open and the French Open, both grand slam events.
It has meant that prize money has dried up in 2020, and the situation is even more extreme in the lesser foreign tours. The TIU reports receiving 38 match alerts between January and March this year, when the coronavirus was sweeping through Asia, compared with 21 in the same period in 2019.