PARIS – For the most part, the Tennis Integrity Unit has caught and suspended players you have never heard of for gambling and match-fixing.
But on the eve of the French Open – literally, the day of the draw – they have come up with a name you might actually recognize.
The TIU has suspended Nicolas Kicker of Argentina indefinitely, pending a definitive sentence.
It’s been a month since the expensive independent panel issued an interim report two years in the making.
A press release Thursday evening, announced that Kicker, 25, “has been found guilty of match-fixing and other offences under the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.”
Kicker is in Paris, where he was preparing for the French Open. We saw him on site Thursday afternoon, and he was scheduled to practice with Kei Nishikori at 4 p.m.
The two matches in question took place three years ago, at Challenger tournaments in Padova, Italy in June 2015 and Baranquilla, Colombia that September.
Here’s the match in Padova.
“He was also found guilty of failing to report a corrupt approach and of not co-operating with a TIU investigation into the allegations made against him,” the release said.
The hearing was held in Miami, during the Miami Open. Kicker was found guilty of all charges.
There is no word on what the penalties or suspension will be. The TIU says that will be determined “at a later date” by Independent Anti-Corruption Hearing officer Jame Mulcahy.
Until then, Kicker cannot be credentialed to enter or even play any professional event (ITF or ATP).
Here are the charges Kicker was found guilty of:
Section D.1.d: “No Covered Person shall, directly or indirectly, contrive or attempt to contrive the outcome or any other aspect of any Event.”
Section D.2.c: “For the avoidance of doubt, (i) a failure of the Reporting Obligation by any Covered Person. And/or (ii) a failure of the duty to co-operate under Section F.2 shall constitute a Corruption Offense for all purposes of the Program.”
Section F.2.b: “All Covered Persons must co-operate fully with investigations conducted by the TIU including giving evidence at hearings, if requested. No Covered Person shall tamper with or destroy any evidence or other information related to any Corruption Offense.”
Challenger offenses three years old
It’s rather astonishing to think that events that occurred nearly three years ago are only, finally, being adjucated now.
Kicker, a small, quick player with a sweet one-handed backhand, is currently ranked No. 84. That’s close to the career high of No. 78 he reached a year ago after the French Open.
He lost to Pablo Cuevas in Paris a year ago, and qualified and reached the quarterfinals in Lyon the week before.
Kicker earned about $100,000 in 2016 and $372,000 in 2017. So far this season, he has banked about $273,000.
But back in 2015, when he was 22 going on 23, he wasn’t in the same situation.
Kicker earned less than $50,000 that year. During the season, he rose from No. 323 to No. 181 in the ATP Tour rankings.
In Padova, he lost in the first round, 6-2, 6-1 to Duckhee Lee of Korea. Lee had just turned 17 and was ranked No. 278 to his No. 204.
After going to Wimbledon and losing in the first round of qualifying, Kicker returned to the clay. He reached the final of two Challengers in Italy.
Then, after playing the US Open qualifying, he finished off his season on the South American clay-court Challenger circuit.
His first stop was Baranquilla. Kickerlost 2-6, 6-2, 7-5 to Giovanni Lapentti of Ecuador – whose ranking was in the same range.
That match was already on most people’s radars as a fairly blatant example of match fixing. Apparently Kicker isn’t as skilled at that art as some who remain on the loose.
Here’s a piece explaining how the odds on this match were completely out of whack with what was happening, which is usually the thing that makes the red lights go on.
And yet, it took nearly three years to “bring to justice”.
Here’s the full match.
Kicker’s prize money in Padova was €440. In Baranquilla, it was $520. Presumably he earned significantly more than that on the side.
(Ironically, Kicker also lost to Lee in the first round of the Australian Open qualifying a year and a half later, in January, 2017. But there, he earned $6,250 (AUS) for the loss, fair and square. There’s a real-life comparison for you).
Career on the rise – now halted
Other than one Challenger to start the season, Kicker has been on the ATP Tour full time in 2018.
He reached the third round at the Australian Open. And he also reached the third round at Indian Wells. Both events are on hard courts.
Kicker was entered in the French Open. But when the draw came out on Thursday, a few hours before the press release was sent, he wasn’t in it.
For the foreseeable future – and it sounds like it won’t be a short sentence – that’s how it will be for him.
Just as he was starting to carve a nice career for himself, his past came back to haunt him.