Corrupt gamblers looking to exploit a looming suspension forced by the COVID-19 outbreak allegedly targeted lower level tennis tours in the first three months of this year, according to new data from the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU).
In a report out earlier this week, London-based TIU said it received 38 match alerts via agreements with legitimate sportsbook operators in the January 1 through March 22 period, well above the 21 notifications it received during the year earlier period.
The increase of reported matches in the first quarter of 2020 is an indication that the entry levels of professional tennis were deliberately targeted by corruptors, as the sport moved towards suspension due to the Coronavirus pandemic,” said the TIU.
On March 18, the ATP and WTA – the highest-level men’s and women’s tours – announced the suspension of their seasons with plans to resume play on June 8. On April 1, the date for resuming play was pushed back to July 13, meaning all of the tours’ grass court swing, including prestigious Wimbledon, will be canceled. This is the first time since World War II that Wimbledon – one of the sport’s four majors – won’t be played.
Where Corruption Supposedly Took Place
TIU emphasizes that while it looks into the alerts it receives from sportsbook partners, not all of those notifications are evidence of match-fixing.
During the period in question this year, none of the notifications involved ATP, WTA, Davis or Fed Cup matches. Six occurred on the ATP Challenger Tour – the second-highest level of men’s tennis behind the ATP.
A combined 32 alerts came from various International Tennis Federation (ITF) men’s and women’s competitions, according to TIU data. The ITF serves as a feeder tour for players attempting to land in the ATP or WTA.
“There are many reasons other than corrupt activity that can explain unusual betting patterns, such as incorrect odds-setting; well-informed betting; player fitness, fatigue and form; playing conditions, and personal circumstances,” said TIU.
TIU didn’t highlight specific events from which notifications were derived, nor it did say for certain that match-fixing occurred.
History of Match-Fixing
While tennis falls in the “other” category with the likes of golf and NASCAR in the US betting lexicon – well behind football, basketball and baseball – there is global appetite for betting on the sport.
By some estimates, tennis is the third-most wagered sport in the world, because on over 300 days a year, there’s a match happening somewhere. That makes the sport a favorite of gamblers and a target of corruptors alike. Some forecasts indicate as many 20 ATP or WTA opening round matches are fixed in any given season.
Last year, Feliciano López, formerly ranked 12th in world tennis, and his doubles partner, Marc López, came under fire for alleged match-fixing. That was after seven French players were arrested on corruption charges in a probe that ensnared nearly 140 competitors.