Feliciano Lopez quashes match-fixing “scandal” (video)

LONDON – You couldn’t have a more perfect storm to gin up a story that was a fairly clearcut non-case of match fixing into something a lot bigger.

You’ve got London, with its tabloid culture and a betting salon on every second street corner.

You’ve got Feliciano Lopez, who is a former champion at Queen’s Club.

And, more pertinently this week, Lopez is partnering home-country tennis hero Andy Murray in his return to the ATP Tour in doubles.

(Whenever that is. Weather permitting. Stiff upper lip).

And, with Tuesday being a complete washout and no tennis to talk about, the story first reported in Diario AS, a Spanish sports daily got a lot of reaction.

There was the Daily Mail.

The Independent (Andy Murray’s TENNIS PARTNER!)

The Guardian.

Metro.

The Sun.

That’s just the first cut.

Lopez explains in press conference

On Wednesday, before the rain came, Lopez, 37 and having fallen outside the top 100 in singles, came back to defeat Marton Fucsovics 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-4 in the first round. Following the win – which was a very good one for him – the Madrid Open tournament director addressed it.

He had a statement prepared before he came into the press conference, no doubt drafted by his attorneys.

And there were a LOT of cameras on hand.

Lopez happy to talk about it

As is usually the case in these things, the ATP Tour handler intervened to insist questions be limited to, you know, his singles win – or doubles with “Our Andy”.

But the British press kept asking. And Lopez appeared quite willing to answer any questions related to this. And so the ATP handler eventually just let the whole thing unfold. This is how it should be, but isn’t always.

Lopez remembered waaaaaaaay back – 15 or 16 years ago, he said – a match between himself and Jarkko Nieminen on Long Island that there had been some questions about. 

The Spaniard retired, down 6-3, 1-1 in that match, with an injury. He said a British tabloid had gotten hold of it and tried to make it into something. But after hearing from Lopez’s lawyers, they quickly printed a retraction.

Foot injury vs. Mannarino

Here’s what Lopez said in his press conference:

Lopez mentioned the match in question at Wimbledon in 2017 took place the year he went deep in Stuttgart, won Queen’s – and then injured his foot in his singles match against Adrian Mannarino.

He and partner Lopez still tried to play the doubles, which is best-of-five set at Wimbledon.

This is not really privileged information. Anyone paying attention to the actual tennis would have figured this out.

So the “scoop” offered by former soccer player Carlos Aranda to his contacts about this match wasn’t exactly premium insider stuff.

Feliciano Lopez was already a popular fellow at Queen’s Club, as a former champion AND as Andy Murray’s doubles partner this week. So the non-story Wednesday about match fixing was just an extra thing. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

As well, it’s not match-fixing to try to go out and play doubles, even if you’re not 100 per cent. It’s allowed (although you could certainly argue the logic of that). And you have a partner to think about. And it’s always possible that you can get away with a small injury if you only have to cover half the court.

At any rate, Lopez remains very happy to be here. He gets to play Juan Martin del Potro in the second round.

And he’s really excited to team up with Murray in doubles.

End story. He handled it like a pro.

Noted coach suspended by TIU for selling wild cards

The corruption issues involving tennis at the lower levels go well beyond match-fixing.

And Miguel Tobón, the former captain of Colombia’s Davis Cup team and a coach who has worked with many of South America’s most notable players, has been suspended by the Tennis Integrity Unit.

Not for any involvement in match fixing, but for selling wild cards.

Tobon received a 12-month suspension and was fined $20,000.

The sales involved six players, and were for both singles and doubles.

The official wording goes like this:

“Tennis coach Miguel Tobón has been suspended for 12 months and fined $20,000 after being found to have traded wild cards in return for payment at a number of tennis tournaments staged in 2017.”

Among the players Tobon has worked with are Alejandro Falla, Santiago Giraldo, Paul Capdeville, Nicolas Massu, Jacobo Diaz, Catalina Castano, Eduardo Struvay, Alejandro Gonzalez and the current top doubles team of Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal.

Now 50, his residence is listed as Pembroke Pines, Fla. where he has operated an academy. He played professionally from 1998-2001 and represented Colombia as a player in 50 Davis Cup ties before two stints as captain.

Challenger in Colombia for sale

The breaches of the Anti-Corruption program took place at three Challenger events in Colombia in 2017 in Floridablanca, Bogotá and Cali.

The TIU reports that he “entered into an agreement with an individual which involved him promoting tennis events in Colombia, for which he received wild cards at those tournaments.”

“He committed a further offence by failing to co-operate with a Tennis Integrity Unit investigation, by refusing to supply his mobile phone for analysis.”

The fine and the suspension are effective as of Friday.

Tobón also was ordered to pay back the equivalent of what he received for those wild cards, a total of $6,000.

He will be barred from attending or coaching at any sanctioned tennis event during the period of the suspension.

Seems like a big risk to take for a matter of $6,000.

Mohamed Safwat fined, but not suspended

We’re not sure exactly of the criteria the Tennis Integrity Unit uses to decide who gets the hammer and who gets the velvet glove, when it comes to reporting approaches from corrupt chaps up to no good.

But we finally see a name we recognize, among these bulletins from the TIU about suspensions and fine for match-fixing.

On Friday night – in the middle of the night in London – the TIU sent out a press release announcing that Egyptian player Mohamed Safwat had been found guilty of “failing to report corrupt approaches to the Tennis Integrity Unit”.

Safwat is a legit pro player. He’s not one of those fellow trolling the Futures circuit looking for opportunities. The 28-year-old has earned nearly half a million dollars in his career, albeit over a long period of time, and has played Davis Cup since 2009.

Just before Wimbledon last summer, he reached his career high in singles of No. 163.

Safwat
Safwat at the Australian Open qualifying earlier this year. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Safwat currently is ranked No. 233, after dropping 43 spots on Monday. A year ago, he reached the final of a $150,000 Challenger in Anning, China.  He lost in the third round of a $54,000 tournament in Mexico this year – hence the loss of points.

The announcement comes more than four months after Safwat’s hearing.

“An independent Anti-Corruption Hearing held in London on 20 and 21 December 2018 found that the 28-year old received a number of corrupt approaches in 2015, but failed to report them to the TIU, as required by the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program (TACP)He was also found guilty of a further charge of failing to report knowledge or suspicion of corruption offences by another party,” the statement reads.

Suspended sentence and small fine

As a result of this conviction, Safwat received a six-month sentence and a $5,000 fine.

But the sentence is suspended. And 80 per cent of the fine ($4,000) is suspended as long as he doesn’t mess up again.

What we conclude from this – and this is not based on any inside intel but merely on common sense – is that Safwat was extremely cooperative in the sense that he gave the TIU some good leads to pursue.

Second Egyptian suspended Friday

In 2015, the year referenced in the announcement, Safwat played a lot of Futures events in Egypt – in Cairo, and also at the Futures factory in Sharm el Sheikh.

Safwat
Safwat at the 2019 Australian Open, where he lost in the first round to Thanasi Kokkinakis. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

In what we think is something far less than a coincidence, another TIU press release had dropped about six hours earlier Friday.

Another Egyptian  – a completely unknown, unranked player named Issam Taweel who is of similar age, and who also has been on that Egyptian circuit on a regular basis – also was suspended and fined. 

Taweel was found guilty of “attempting to contrive the outcome of a match, failing to report a corrupt approach and failing to disclose knowledge of the corrupt activity of another party” after a hearing in London Feb. 26.

He is provisionally suspended, with the suspension length and fine to be determined at a later date. 

Whether the two are good friends is not known. But they have met a dozen times in doubles and singles going all the way back to 2008. Almost all of those matches came on that Egyptian circuit.

Safwat won all but two of those encounters.

But, more pertinently, the two have teamed up in doubles numerous times.

Notably, during that 2015 season on that same circuit, they played doubles twice together in Sharm el Sheikh. They reached the final both times. They lost both times.

Taweel

A long career in the Futures

Safwat was 14 when he played his first pro event back in 2005. He was a top-50 junior, while Taweel never made it inside the top 200.

He has 24 career titles on the Futures circuit; 19 of them came in Egypt.

Safwat has played in 16 ATP Tour events, including four times in Doha and twice in Dubai.

He reached his first career Grand Slam main draw last year at the French Open.

Safwat ended up getting the last-minute call from way down the lucky loser list during that notorious wave of withdrawals that turned Marco Trungelliti into a celebrity for a few days.

He was the first Egyptian to play in the French Open main draw in 22 years.

Safwat, who had about an hour’s notice, acquitted himself well against Grigor Dimitrov after a slow start, losing 6-1, 6-4, 7-6. That he went from planning to leave for his next event to Court Philippe Chatrier would have led anyone to have a slow start.

He currently is six out of the qualifying for this year’s event.

But if Safwat gets in, which is likely, he will be allowed to play. Safwat was the No. 7 seed at the $135,000 Challenger in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico this week.

He lost in the third round to No. 9 seed Mirza Basic. Safwat earned $2,150 and nine ATP Tour ranking points.

The TIU loves Marco Trungelliti

Back in February, La Nación broke the story about Argentina’s Marco Trungelliti and his courage in coming forth to blow the lid off a match-fixing organization in his native land.

More recently, an English-language story by the Associated Press two weeks ago  gave Trungelliti’s story more widespread attention.

It chronicled the treatment he has received at the hands of his peers. And it went into how he’s been accused of being a snitch – and worse.

To that end, the Tennis Integrity Unit issued a statement late Wednesday in London. Belatedly, it offered its full support relative to Trungelliti’s cooperation.

The statement indicated that it has not confirmed or commented on Trungelliti’s involvement in the prosecution of three of his countrymen because of its “confidentiality policy.”

Trungelliti takes on the match-fixers

“The Tennis Integrity Unit’s intention is at all times to protect the identity of witnesses,” the statement said.

“The highest level of integrity”

But in the wake of the criticism Trungelliti has received and the questioning of his motives for cooperating, it wrote the following:

“The TIU unreservedly condemns the treatment received by Mr Trungelliti. And it would like to place on record its appreciation of his support and full compliance with the TACP. The TIU also wishes to confirm the facts surrounding his involvement:

*Mr Trungelliti voluntarily reported a corrupt approach he received from a third party to the TIU, in line with the agreement contained in the TACP, which is signed by all professional tennis players

*At no point has Mr Trungelliti ever been the subject of any investigation, charge or sanction by the TIU

*He received no payment for the information he provided. And he has never requested or been offered any kind of plea bargain or other agreement with the TIU.”

The Great Marco Trungelliti Road Trip

The statement adds that Trungelliti “has acted with the highest level of integrity and with the best interests of the sport in mind. His courageous and principled stand against those who seek to corrupt is to be admired and commended.”

Better late than never. But kind of late. The AP story came out two weeks ago.

Tough times for Marco Trungelliti

Trungelliti retired during a Challenger match in early April. And he withdrew before his final-round qualifying match in Monte Carlo several weeks ago, because of a recurring back issue.

He has not played since. But regardless of all the recent attention, he would have arrived at the French Open with a disproportionate amount of attention for a qualifier.

The Argentine’s Roland Garros Road Trip saga with his grandmother was one of the feel-good moments of last year’s event. And so it would have made him a subject of interest, one year later.

Kicker looking for reduced suspension

Souza suspended, unsuspended – then suspended again

The last few weeks have been a roller coaster for Brazil’s João Souza.

(Not to be confused with Portugal’s João Sousa).

The 30-year-old, currently ranked No. 422 after a career high of No. 69 almost exactly four years ago, is under provisional suspension from professional tennis.

The Tennis Integrity Unit is looking into “alleged breaches of the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.”

The twist in this one is that Souza was already suspended briefly – then reinstated, briefly.

And now, he’s suspended again.

The original suspension was announced March 29 – and then mysteriously sort of disappeared.

Souza had made a “successful appeal”, per the TIU. And he was reinstated on April 8.

The veteran hadn’t played since a Challenger event in Chile in early March. But he returned to action this week at a Challenger in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. It was his ninth tournament of the season.

With a ranking of No. 13 on the ITF Tennis Tour (built up on the Futures circuit in the second half of 2018), Souza can get into almost any Challenger he wants because of the reserved places for top-ranked ITF players in each tournament.

And so he posted victories over qualifier Gerardo Lopez of Mexico in the first round, and then a straight-sets upset over No. 8 seed Mohamed Safwat of Egypt.

But Souza was forced to give Marcelo Barrios Vera of Chile a walkover in the third round Thursday.

“Additional evidence submitted”

The reason why became clear with the TIU’s announcement Friday.

It indicated that the provisional suspension was re-imposed “following consideration of additional evidence submitted by the TIU”. As well, no more appeals will be allowed. 

Souza earned $860 (!!!) and seven ATP Tour ranking points in San Luis Potosi this week. Per Mark Harrison of the TIU, Souza will be allowed to keep whatever he earned from the reinstatement April 8 until the time of the forfeit.

Souza began the 2018 season on the ATP Tour, but lost in the qualifying of all the events he entered, most on the South American winter clay-court swing. By the end of the season, he was on the Futures circuit, where he won three straight tournaments to finish up the year.

He was inside the top 100 for six months, from February to Aug. 2015. That year, he earned over $320,000 and hit his career high.

But in 2016 and 2017 he grossed less than $100,000 per year and in Aug. 2017, he fell out of the top 200.

In 2018, Souza earned less than $40,000, despite playing 29 events.

Trungelliti takes on the match-fixers

Remember Marco Trungelliti?

He’s the journeyman Argentine player whose road-trip odyssey from Spain to Roland Garros  – with his grandma in tow, no less – was one of the feel-good stories at the French Open last year.

A raft of late withdrawals because of the new “get half your prize money” rule meant that there were more lucky loser spots than players still in town to claim them.

And Trungelliti, who had lost in the final round of qualifying but, with a ranking of No. 190 and far down the list felt there was no shot, had gone back to Barcelona.

He made the 10-hour trip back. And then, he beat Bernard Tomic in the first round before losing to eventual semifinalist Marco Cecchinato. The 99,000 Euros he earned no doubt helped subsidize his entire year.

The Great Marco Trungelliti Road Trip

Well, it turns out he has quite a story to tell – one that went on for more than three years even through his great Roland Garros adventure.

And it’s comprehensively told in a story in La Nacion.

The newspaper got access to the Tennis Integrity Unit’s documents about the case.  

Please click on the link and give them the page views they deserve for their painstaking work on this. If your Spanish isn’t up to it, Google Translate does a decent job on this one.

Here’s a brief summary of the events, and the consequences.

Briefcases and envelopes full of cash

Trungelliti – who just turned 29 and currently is at a career-high No. 117 in the singles rankings, wasn’t in a great place four years ago.

He’d been out there grinding for eight years – rarely even getting out of South America. He had finally reached the point where he could squeeze into a couple of Grand Slam qualifying tournaments, but couldn’t make it. It looked like he was going to be a career Challenger player. 

And then, through a friend, a “guardian angel” contacted him on Facebook, asking to meet and saying he’d get him a sponsor to help him break that Challenger ceiling.

The two men he met outlined the match-fixing system they had in place. It included secret cell-phone calls and briefcases and envelopes of cash handed over personally.

They gave him eight names of players they had on the plan – from Argentina, and other countries as well.

(Click below for the full story by Sebastian Torok in La Nación)Trungelliti

Reporting to the TIU

Trungelliti left for Europe. And with the help of a friend whose English was better, he alerted the TIU some six weeks later.

There were some contacts with the TIU at first. But nothing happened for two whole years.

As all this was happening, Trungelliti was still trying to compete in tournaments – and was very, very concerned that these guys (who knew where he lived) would retaliate in some way. In Argentina, that’s no irrational concern.

The match-fixers kept in touch. And the information Trungelliti was able to provide led to the investigations and suspensions of several players.

Trungelliti

Those included countrymen Federico Coria, Nicolás Kicker and Patricio Heras. Trungelliti ended up having to testify in all three cases during the spring of 2018. That was something he was not prepared for. But he did it, via Skype from Barcelona. He was able to see the faces of the players on trial, at a location in Miami. And they were able to see him.

These three are among the bigger fish that the TIU has managed to nab. They were three viable players – not guys ranked outside the top 1,000 that no one had ever heard of, as is typically the case.

TIU catches medium fish in Nicolas Kicker

So if you thought that was the TIU doing an impressive investigative job, it turns out that it was all because of the Herculean efforts of one honest man.

And, in coming forward, Trungelliti was put through the wringer and also had to suffer a huge distraction – for three years – during which time he was struggling to establish his career.

A hero? Not to some fellow players

Argentine Heras convicted of match-fixing

You’d think Trungelliti would be hailed for this by his fellow players, who surely want to keep the sport honest and clean, right?

Not so much.

According to the La Nación story, he was basically called a rat and a squealer. 

Harassment. Threats. Trungelliti and his wife moved from Barcelona to the tax-free haven of Andorra. They didn’t want to return to Argentina.

But of course, that is the job. Trungelliti makes his living on the dirt. And South America is where the ATP clay-court events are.

The 29-year-old was in Córdoba last week, and was in the qualifying of Buenos Aires this week.

Trungelliti
Trungelliti charms the press conference room at Roland Garros last year, after his win over Bernard Tomic in the first round of the main draw. Who knew he had this huge thing hanging over his head. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

No wild cards in Argentina

It’s probably unrelated, but the Argentine tournaments on the South American swing did him absolutely no favours.

Trungelliti was the highest-ranked Argentine not to get directly into Córdoba. The tournament gave a wild card to Juan Ignacio Londero, ranked just ahead of him and to 36-year-old Carlos Berlocq, a Buenos Aires native ranked some 20 spots behind him.

The third wild card went to a Brazilian teenager named Thiago Seyboth Wild, ranked No. 451.

In Buenos Aires this coming week, Trungelliti again was the highest-ranked Argentine not in the main draw.

One wild card went to David Ferrer. A second went to Canadian up-and-comer Félix Auger-Aliassime. The third went to a 20-year-old Argentine named Francisco Cerundolo who has no ATP ranking.

Cerundolo is a Buenos Aires native who won a pre-qualifying tournament in December to earn the spot.

Seeded in qualifying at both events, Trungelliti lost in the first round in both. Hardly surprising, given all that’s going on.

So he earned a total of $2,725 – and an untold amount of stress – during his trip home.

The irony? It’s entirely likely some of the betting scum lost money on Trungelliti, given he was the favorite in both those matches.

If anything, Trungelliti’s saga is a cautionary tale to any players tempted to turn in the bad guys.

You do the right thing, and it’s going to hang over you for years by the time the authorities get around to doing anything. And you’ll get threatened, for your extra pleasure.

Integrity review panel submits final report

It’s been nearly three years since the various tennis bodies got together as one (a watershed moment in itself) to fund a comprehensive review of tennis’s betting issues.

And now, the final report has finally landed.

At 113 pages, it’s not easy tennis off-season reading – to say the least.

And it comes nearly eight months after the IRP submitted an interim report, nearly 2 1/2 years into the process overall.

The purpose of that interim report seemed mainly to provide an opportunity for various tennis bodies criticized to plead their case, in their own defence.

Will the various tennis bodies will takes the panel’s recommendations to heart and make a full effort to implement them?

That’s to be determined.

Governing bodies sign off

The governing bodies of tennis (the ATP, WTA, ITF and the Slams as individual units) signed off on the report.

Notably, it took just three paragraphs for the statement to note that “the Panel has seen no evidence of any institutional corruption or cover-up by the international governing bodies or the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU).”

You hope that wasn’t the group’s biggest takeaway – ensuring history wasn’t unkind. But it may well have been.

“We will now work collectively to prioritize timely implementation of the Panel’s final integrity and governance recommendations,” the statement said.

Past transgressions highlighted again

As in the interim report, the review panel found the level of action on suspicious match betting more than inadequate in the early years. That was notably so in the wake of former ATP supervisor Richard Ings’s 2005 report.

Too many cases for which leads weren’t followed. Betting accounts in the names of players and coaches. Insufficient efforts at the Slam level to investigate suspicious betting.

In the latter case, the panel attributes the neglect to inadequate structures and resources.

As well, the panel brings up a situation in 2003  “in which a player who had been under investigation retired” following a “conversation” with the ATP. 

In other words: retire, and we won’t go after you. PLEASE don’t make us go after you.

In short, the panel didn’t find the governing bodies and the Tennis Integrity did anything wrong. But it does note that there were umpteen things they didn’t do.

Successful prosecutions leap

The Tennis Integrity Unit has successfully prosecuted 59 cases since 2009.  Notably, 23 of those came since the Interim Report was published in April 2018. Which doesn’t say much for the 2009 – April 2018 period.

One criticism the panel leveled upon the TIU is that it has, incredibly, failed to hire a betting analyst.

You’d think this would be a huge priority. It is the betting companies and analysts that, most often, blow the whistly.

You’d be wrong. 

Daniele Bracciali banned for life by ITF

 The Sportradar situation

The ITF first joined forces with Sportradar, which provides live scoring data, back in 2011. The ITF extended that agreement in 2015.

So the struggle, with the interim panel’s initial recommendation to eliminate live scoring altogether at the lower levels, has been real. 

“The Panel considers that insufficient diligence was undertaken by the ITF fully to assess the potential ramifications of entering into these agreements, which increased by tens of thousands the matches that could be bet upon at the Lowest Level of the sport, before entering into them.”

Meanwhile the “Tennis Integrity Board”, established by the game’s alphabet soup to oversee the TIU, proved to be a waste of per diems. 

“The TIU has not been subject to adequate supervision or strategic direction from the Tennis Integrity Board (“TIB”), which was established by the International Governing Bodies to oversee the TIU. This has principally arisen as a consequence of the TIB’s deference to the independence of the TIU.”

The panel advocated the discontinuance of Sportradar’s live data from the low-level $15K and $25K events. The ITF derives considerable revenue from the Sportradar sponsorship. Sportradar earns significantly more because of having the contract. So the latter two begged to differ.

Thus, they found themselves at cross-purposes.

Revenue lost on source of 80% of suspicious matches

The counter-argument from those who stand to benefit from the use of the data is  that it wouldn’t stop the betting at the lower levels. Alternate sources of live data would pop up, they say.

And that would cause an “erosion in co-operation between betting operators and the TIU because betting markets for ITF events would no longer be based on official data.”

The game’s other governing bodies disagree with that assessment. But of course, they have no financial stake.

TIU catches medium fish in Nicolas Kicker

The compromise seems to be a “targeted” approach. In other words, keep the money train running, to an extent. 

The panel’s recommendation is that the live scoring data be discontinued only at the $15,000 level. In 2019, those entry-level tournaments are almost completely cut off from the rest of the tennis universe by the new structure.

But the TIU can, “on the basis of its experience (!!!??) and in cooperation with betting operators, stop the live data on “certain high risk circumstances throughout the sport.”

Take the 15Ks off the table

As well, the panel recommends imposing “targeted restrictions on the supply of official live scoring data in particular circumstances at all levels of the sport”.

It also recommends imposing “integrity-related contractual obligations on betting operators and data supply companies as a condition of the supply of official live scoring data.”

The panel feels that having the scoring data still freely available at all the other levels will solve it. It posits that the betting community would be less motivated to invest in the personnel required to set up an alternate system to scout and report scores at the $15K level.

As well, with the ITF planning to expand the distribution of $25K matches around the world, that should be enough to satisfy betting demand.

They hope.

Eliminating the 15Ks as a gambling resource would significantly reduce the workload of cases investigated by the TIU. Its study of the numbers determined that some 80 per cent of the suspicious matches occur at the $15K level.

And preserving the Sportradar revenue from its dissemination of the live scores at the $25K level of tournaments would help fund that level.

ATP, WTA and ITF restructure tennis

Sportradar extended to 2021

The biggest complication here is that the ITF’s contract with Sportsradar was extended from Jan. 2019 to the end of the 2021 season. And that, despite this review that has been ongoing since early 2016.

Why did that happen? You’d have to ask the ITF.

Its base position is that there already was betting at the lower levels before it entered into its deal with Sportsradar. So, really, Sportradar (and the revenue it generates) can’t be the problem.

The panel disagreed with the ITF’s self-serving assessment. It pointed to the spike in suspicious match alerts from 2012 on.

But that conflict of interest ties the panel’s hands in terms of recommending changes that can actually be implemented.

(Conflict of interest in tennis? You don’t say!)

“The Panel’s position is that the ITF should take such steps as it entitled to take under its contract with Sportradar to implement the recommendation to the maximum extent possible. It is a matter for the ITF to determine what steps are permissible under its contract.”

It’s kind of a problem that nearly three years into the process, after a three-year deal extension, the review panel doesn’t have a handle on this issue.

Betting sponsorships

There were concerns from some of the alphabet soup that having to pass on accepting betting sponsorships meant foregoing “an essential element of the basis on which some events are able to provide funding of prize money.”

They claimed losing that revenue might even threaten the financial viability of certain events. But the panel posits that “no evidence was submitted to support this suggestion.”

The collective written submission supported the elimination of betting sponsorships. The concerns about losing that revenue “were not raised until late in the consultation process – and then, only orally,” the final report stated.

But the panel posits that if tennis has already banned players and their teams from accepting said sponsorships, the tournaments should live by the same rules.

It also notes the ITF already has banned its events from accepting sponsorships from betting companies. It goes without saying those would be the lower-tier events that would need that revenue the most.

And so, the WTA and ATP should be able to do the same.

Rare match-fixing get on women’s side

ATP, WTA need to kick in more

The review panel realizes that the recommendations will hurt the ITF’s bottom line – “a substantial part of which is reinvested in promoting tennis at what is essentially a developmental level of the game.”

So it recommends that the other members of the alphabet soup up their contributions to help the ITF on the development side.

Other recommendations

– A new, separate, independent Tennis Integrity Unit with more oversight and a “separate legal personality”, with a CEO. (The tennis collective expects this job to be filled sometime in 2019).

– A bigger, more diverse staff.

–Increased, more secure funding.

–A more thorough and restrictive credentialing process and increased security to keep some of the bad hombres out of the player lounges.

–Measures implemented to deal with the “rampant online abuse of players.” (Good luck with that).

 –The addition of in-house betting expertise (how extra-overdue is this?) and the increased use of betting data and match footage to support the cases the TIU goes after (i.e., go beyond asking guys if they’ve been naughty or nice and hope for honesty).

10-year ban for American Nick Kryvonos

–Replacing the two-stage process (the hearing, and the potential appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport) with a single-stage process to save time and money.

Major backlog of cases

After betting alerts quadrupled in 2015 and the review panel was announced, the TIU increased its number of investigators from … two to seven. The current boss, Director of Integrity Nigel Willerton, says they need 12.

Perhaps they need more. A document dated March, 2017 showed 85 players for which the TIU still hadn’t had time to interview. In fact, in all of 2016, the TIU conducted only 80 interviews.

As of June 2018, that backlog of uninterviewed players stood at 138. 

The lack of diversity (English-only language skills in a global game, for example), continues to hamper the investigative process on every level.

As well, the TIU still lacks expertise in betting analysis, tennis expertise and “readily available” legal advice. Especially betting analysis. 

TIU opts for more transparency

Panel conclusions

After nearly three years, the only real change is that the Review Panel now has concrete numbers and charts to back up what most people already knew empirically.

Most of the betting corruption occurs at the lowest levels of the sport.

And so, the panel’s recommendations are to basically turn the page on the $15K Futures tournaments, where some 80 per cent of the suspicious matches occur. And, thus, attempt to eliminate 80 per cent of the problem – or at least, take it off their radar. Or their Sportradar (pardon the pun).

They recommend the bettors no longer get access to live scoring from those events, the rights for which are owned by Sportradar, which pays the ITF a tidy sum for them. 

Since the interim report in April, the ITF has basically thrown the entry level of the professional game into completely disarray. So many players remain quite unsure of how the changes will play out. Many wonder what the ITF was thinking. More question whether it’s even worth continuing to try to chase their dream.

As well, multiple countries have cancelled their $15,000 tournaments altogether.

ALL Futures tournaments in Canada cancelled

Or, they have had to revamp their entire competitive structure, because of the changes.

With new Transition Tour, USTA revamps

So that’s challenging.

Other than that, they need more investigators, more expertise, and more funding. Also – more cooperation and communication with betting companies and the corruption watch dogs in the individual countries.

(The TIU has added an investigator, an intelligence analyst and an education coordinator in 2018).

In other words, little that we didn’t already know.

After nearly three years and multiple millions of dollars spent, the key will be in the implementation.

Rare match-fixing get on women’s side

Most of the players the Tennis Integrity Unit nabs on match-fixing and related offences are men.

In fact, according to the list of TIU convictions, all of them.

The only woman was Ekaterina Bychkova, who was suspended for 30 days in 2010 for failing to report an approach. But Bychkova was not found to have fixed any matches.

On Wednesday, the TIU announced that Loveth Donatus of Nigeria has been suspended for two years and fined $5,000, after being found guilty on several charges.

Half the length of the ban, and the entire fine, will be suspended if she commits no further offenses.

That makes sense, as according to the WTA’s website (we know, not the most reliable these days), her official career earnings add up to $1,216. So clearly any earnings she might have managed came … off the court.

Donatus, who has never had a ranking, was found to have accepted money to lose a match against 23-year-old Abir El Fahimi of Morocco at an ITF in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt in Aug. 2016.

El Fahimi played the Futures level for 4 1/2 years without much success. And she also represented Morocco in Fed Cup in the Europe-Africa Zone 3 last year.

Donatus lost 6-1, 6-4.

Quarterly Tennis Integrity Unit report

Several match-fixing offenses

The TIU’s investigation also determined Donatus failed to report an approach. And it also found that she “further attempted to persuade a fellow player to deliberately under-perform, in return for payment.”

As it happens, her country is hosting a pair of $25,000 joint ITF events last week and this week in Lagos. Donatus played both weeks; they were her first matches since last November.

Now 26, Donatus only began playing the low-level ITF tournaments in 2015. And after 11 tournaments, she had won a total of just one match.

That came last November in the first round of qualifying at a $25,000 Pro Circuit tournament in Dakar. Her opponent was M.J. Changwereza of Great Britain, 14 at the time, who was playing her first-ever match in a pro event.

(Photo from Tennis Africa Magazine)

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.