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.

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.