Kicker gets six years for match-fixing

The Tennis Integrity Unit has handed down its decision on the case of Nicolas Kicker.

And they came down hard.

Kicker was suspended for six years and fined $25,000 for committing match-fixing offenses.

Half of that suspension – three years – is suspended “on the basis that Mr Kicker commits no further breaches of the Program.”

It’s backdated to May 24, the day the 25-year-old Argentine was first banned from playing tennis.

Right before this year’s French Open, it was announced that an independent Anti-Corruption Hearing officer ruled that Kicker was guilty of fixing matches at two Challenger tournaments. The hearing was held in Miami on March 20, 2018 during the Miami Open.

One of the matches took place in Padova, Italy in June, 2015 and the other in Baranquilla, Colombia in September of that year.

He also was nailed for “failing to fully cooperate” with the investigation.

A full-time ATP Tour player in ’18

Back then, aged 22-23, Kicker was ranked around No. 135 in the world. He played just one ATP-level match all season, a first-round qualifying match in Sao Paulo. His earnings for the entire year checked in at just under $50,000.

A stylish player with a nifty one-handed backhand, his fortunes had improved. Kicker reached his career-best of No. 78 after the 2017 French Open. 

He had qualified and reached the quarterfinals in Lyon the week before (beating Dustin Brown and Nick Kyrgios along the way) and won a round in Paris.

This week, Kicker ranked exactly No. 100 after he could not defend those points from a year ago – or any others for the foreseeable future.

He has earned more than $600,000 on court since the beginning of 2017. This season, he had been a full-time player at the ATP Tour level.

At just 25, you can’t say his career is definitively over. But a three-year layoff is a crusher.

TIU catches medium fish in Nicolas Kicker

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.

Challenger corruption

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.

Kicker
Kicker (seen here during the qualifying at the 2016 French Open) had become a main tour, top-100 ATP player this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

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.

Kicker

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).

Kicker

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.

Daniele Bracciali returns to ATP Tour

Italy’s Daniele Bracciali, his trial for alleged match-fixing behind him, is back on the ATP Tour this week.

The timing couldn’t be more ironic, as the interim report by the independent review panel commissioned by the various tennis bodies two years ago finally dropped a few days ago.

In February, 2015, Bracciali and countryman Potito Starace were suspended 40 days by the Italian Tennis Federation as they probed a wide-ranging match-fixing scandal that also involved soccer.

The Associated Press reported that in meetings with investigators the previous November, Bracciali had admitted partial guilt.

Bracciali didn’t even testify until May, 2016.

A year ago this week they were still having hearings.

Last November, countryman Simone Bolelli (who is playing the qualifying this week in Estoril), testified. 

Finally, in January, the Cremona court acquitted both Bracciali and Starace (and others). It was the day before Bracciali’s 40th birthday.

He immediately headed to Germany to play a Futures event that very week.

No ATP allowed for Bracciali

According to UbiTennis, Bracciali said in an interview he was allowed to play on the ITF circuit while all this was going on. But he added the the ATP would not allow him to compete. 

In fact, he played just one tournament between the 2015 Australian Open and that return in Germany this past January. It was a Futures tournament in Italy played during last year’s US Open. 

Bracciali played some open events and also started a tennis academy, according to UbiTennis.

Bracciali told the website the Tennis Integrity Unit questioned him, nearly three years ago now, and that he had repeatedly asked them for a hearing. But he said the TIU had not contacted him. And he added the ATP has a rule that states if a player is involved in a criminal trial, they can prevent him from playing on Tour at their discretion.

Bracciali
Bracciali and partner Jesse Huta Galung at the 2014 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Following the Futures in Germany, Bracciali played a Challenger in Bergamo in February, losing in the first round.

Istanbul, with Jaziri

But this week, he’s back at the top level.

Bracciali and Malek Jaziri of Tunisia are in the doubles draw in Istanbul. They will face Canadian Daniel Nestor and American Jamie Cerretani in the first round.

The Italian still has a protected ranking of No. 89, despite his absence clearly not being injury-related. He had originally entered with countryman Andreas Seppi. But Seppi, who reached the semifinals in Budapest this week and lost a tough three-setter, isn’t playing doubles next week. So Bracciali signed in with Jaziri.

(NOTE: We’ve efforted with the ATP to get the exact details concerning Bracciali’s claim that he was not allowed to compete on the ATP Tour during the investigation. As for the protected ranking, he had it all the way back in 2015. And it seems it was frozen while he was on a provisional ATP suspension lifted when he was cleared by the Italian court in January).

Starace retired

Bracciali

Starace, now 36, continued to play in 2015 after serving the 40-day suspension. He even reached the semifinals at the Masters 1000 in Rome. But he hasn’t played since July, 2015. 

He last played doubles at a Challenger in Mestre, Italy in June 2016 – and won the title with Flavio Cipolla.

“I was acquitted twice by sporting justice and finally also by ordinary justice. It remains so bitter in my mouth because I was in business and I had a good ranking when it all happened,” Starace told an Italian radio station after the January verdict. “Things have been said that weren’t true … things that hurt. But I knew I was innocent and I just waited for this moment, knowing it would end like this.”

Starace told the radio station he has a tennis academy in Rome, but he didn’t think he could return to the Tour. “I am 36 years old, I would have to start from scratch and I do not think I can do it “.

Early suspensions

Bracciali and Starace’s history is hardly spotless, on the match-fixing side.

Nearly a decade ago, in 2008, the two also were suspended, the Telegraph reported.

Bracciali
Bracciali played mixed doubles with countrywoman Roberta Vinci at the 2014 Australian Open. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

At the time, Starace, 26, was the highest-ranked singles player in Italy at No. 31.

Starace’s suspension was for six weeks, the fine $20,000, for making five bets totalling a little over $100 in 2004.

Bracciali received a three-month suspension, and the same fine, for bets totally about $300 in 2004-05.

Per the Telegraph, both felt they had been made scapegoats, with the ATP wanting to make an example of them as the subject of match-fixing was a hot-button item.

Three other Italians – Alessio Di Mauro, Giorgio Galimberti and the late Federico Luzzi – also were suspended at the time.

10-year ban for American Nick Kryvonos

The Tennis Integrity Unit announced another match-fixing ban Thursday. This time, it’s an American.

Nikita Kryvonos, 30, was issued a 10-year ban and a $20,000 US fine after being found in breach of the Tennis Anti-Corruption program.

His career high of No. 389 in singles came 10 years ago when he was just a couple of years out of juniors. But Kryvonos hasn’t played since Nov. 2015. He was put on provisional suspension then, at the very beginning of the investigation, for failing to cooperate with the TIU.

He had been a regular on the Challenger and Futures circuits in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

Colluding to fix matches

The investigation found Kryvonos colluded with third parties to fix a match at the Champaign Challenger in Illinois that month. The TIU said that there was “suspicious betting activity in several countries” around the match.

Those suspicious betting patterns, when flagged, set off alarm bells and can lead to an investigation. This particular one was brought to its conclusion.

Kryvonos wouldn’t supply his mobile phone records or other documentation, hence the immediate provisional suspension. Still, it took 18 months for the process to be completed. The hearing was finally held April 27. The sanctions are effective today, with the 10-year ban backdated to the initial provisional suspension, Nov. 30, 2015.

He is “not allowed to compete in or attend any tournament or event organised or sanctioned by the governing bodies of the sport” during the suspension period.

Kryvonos was a promising junior back in his day. Ranked in the top-30 in the ITF rankings, he was a semi-finalist at the 2004 Orange Bowl at age 18.  In the first round there, he defeated a very young Kei Nishikori.

Kryvonos took 17-year-old Andy Murray to three sets in the first round of junior Wimbledon that year. He lost in the second round of the junior French Open to Gaël Monfils.  And he had wins over the likes of Tim Smyczek, Fabio Fognini and Viktor Troicki during his junior career.

But as with so many others, success on the pro circuit didn’t follow. And then, other things followed.

Another small fry banned for match fixing

The Tennis Integrity Unit has announced another match-fixing conviction.

And it has offered up a fair amount of detail about what Junn Mitsuhashi did to get fined $50,000 US, and be banned for life.

Mitsuhashi, 27, had better career numbers than the average small fish. He reached a career high of No. 295 in singles in 2009, and No. 217 in doubles in 2010. As a top-100 ranked junior, he played doubles regularly with current Tour player Tatsuma Ito, and was a Junior Davis Cup teammate of Japanese superstar Kei Nishikori.

London-born, he represented Japan. But he never played a match at the ATP Tour level. And those rankings were many, many years ago. He earned just over $65,000 in his career. And he hasn’t played since 2014.

And so …

The ITF’s increased level of detail in this case likely is because another player involved already has been banned for life, in a case finalized in 2016. The fact that the player South African Joshua Chetty (right in above photo) approached then reported the situation to the TIU likely is what got the ball rolling.

On his Instagram account (private), Chetty (now 22) calls himself  “Ex-professional athlete, author, motivational speaker, business owner.”

Matsuhashi, who according to the TIU had previously coach Chetty, asked him to make a corrupt approach to a fellow competitor. It happened during the  ITF Futures F1 Tournament in Stellenbosch, South Africa. The financial inducement was $2,000 to underperform in a singles match, and $600 in a doubles match.

It’s likely that player was Austrian Lucas Miedler. Chetty played Miedler in the first round of both singles and doubles.

Miedler was 19 at the time (he turns 21 next month). He is currently ranked No. 347 in singles. And according to his ITF bio, is coached by former Thomas Muster manager Ronnie Leitgeb.

He was a top-15 junior and won the 2014 Australian Open junior doubles and made the final of the French Open junior doubles. He was losing in the junior Slams to players currently promoted as the Next-Gen (Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Thanasi Kokkinakis). So Miedler was a player with a future, with some solid backing.

Mitsuhashi probably was barking up the wrong tree there. But you can certainly see how this kind of offer would be hugely tempting at that level.

Match fixing does pay

Miedler reached the singles semis and won the doubles at that Futures event. His total prize money for the week was $960 in singles, and $215 in doubles. After deductions, Miedler netted … $740. He would have put a quick $2,600 in his pocket had he accepted – more than three times what he earned.

The next month, Mitsuhashi made a similar approach to a different player at a tournament in Lagos, Nigeria – directly, this time.

He also was found to have played 76 bets on tennis matches during that period.

Worse for Mitsuhashi (but probably good for any other players he may have had dealings with), he wouldn’t cooperate with the TIU’s investigation. 

That $50,000 fine is not far away from what he earned his entire pro career. Mitsuhashi may well have made a good living in his side gig, but you wonder if the TIU authorities realistically think they can collect.

Another Greek player receives lifetime ban

The ITF decided Greek tennis player Constantinos Mikos’s fate Thursday, issuing a lifetime ban in the wake of conviction on several Anti-Corruption Program offenses. 

Sections D.1.a, .d, .e and .g, if you want to look them up.

The evidence that led to Mikos’s ban came from an investigation 3 1/2 years ago. The TIU said Milos made a “corrupt approach” to fellow Greek player Alexandros Jakupovic at a Futures event in in their homeland.

Mikos, then 21, was in on a wild card into that $10,000 tournament. He lost in the first round to No. 4 seed Liam Broady of Great Britain. Jakupovic, then 31 and ranked No. 507, lost in the quarterfinals to another Brit, Oliver Golding. He had played fellow Greeks in the first two rounds. 

(As an aside on Golding, the former junior world No. 1  retired less than a year after that match, at age 21 as he wearied of the uphill battle in the minor leagues. Jakupovic earned only slight more official prize money in 17 years slugging it out in those trenches than Golding did in less than four).

Per the TIU, the approach “offered payment in return for agreeing to lose nominated sets and games in a match at the event.”

But Mikos was in far deeper than that. The report stated he had two gambling accounts and used them to bet on tennis. That’s also a major no-no.

He was ranked No. 937 at the time of his transgressions.

In approaching Jakupovic, Mikos was hardly trying to corrupt an innocent party. The Paris-born Jakupovic has already received a lifetime ban for similar offenses.

In addition to being guilty of sections D.1..d, .e and .g, Jakupovic also breached sections D.2.a.i (I) and (II), Essentially, he was approached to fix a match, and he failed to report it to the Tennis Integrity Unit as he was required to do.

Jakupovic hasn’t played since July, 2015. In his entire career, which began in 1999, he earned just over $116,000 US. That’s less than $7,000 on average, per year. 

During the period between 2002 and 2014, even allowing for a couple of missing chunks (during which he might have been injured), he averaged over 20 tournaments a year, all over the world. He peaked at 33 tournaments in 2008 and another 30 in 2009. 

Good player stuck at bottom levels

Jakupovic obviously could play. He qualified at the Australian Open juniors in 1999. And through the many years he played Davis Cup for Greece, he put up some impressive efforts.

He defeated future top-15 player Alexandr Dolgopolov in straight sets in a 2007 tie. Dolgopolov wasn’t the player he would later become, but he wasn’t a kid; he was 18 1/2 at the time. Jakupovic also went three sets with future top-10 player Gilles Simon of France back in 2004, when Simon was also about that age.

Even three years ago, at age 32, he took Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia to five sets in Davis Cup. He was up two sets to love, too. Jakupovic was outside the top 500; Dzumhur was just about to break into the top 100 for the first time.

Of the over 600 professional matches he played, two came at the ATP level (both in qualifying at Gstaad), some 50 on the Challenger circuit, and 563 in the Futures. Given how much he earned, clearly that was the place where he was best able to make a living. And clearly not on the court; $7,000 a year won’t get you very far.

Mikos played about 100 Futures singles matches, nearly all of them in Greece, Turkey, Romania or Bulgaria. 

You know there have to be a multitude of players like this, trying to scratch out a living in the Futures by whatever means possible. But the total number of successful cases officially concluded by the Tennis Integrity Unit so far in 2017 is … six. The total number of successful cases in 2016? Also six, one of them involving a pair of Turkish tennis officials. One player, Daniel Garza of Mexico, successfully appealed his ban and is back on the Futures circuit.