Category Archives: Martin Vassallo-Arguello

I lost the internet for a few days, the gutters were leaking onto my carport, my carport was leaking into my office, even my refrigerator was leaking. Things can only get better in 2008 so let’s put 2007 to rest by finishing up the Wayback Machine: a look back at last year.

Gambling Blows Up

Rafael Nadal continued to battle injuries. Donald Young moved a lot closer to fulfilling his promise. David Nalbandian resurrected his career and took it higher than ever before with consecutive Masters titles.

These were all very important events in 2007 but they were on court events. The biggest news in tennis was off the court. Gambling came out of the shadows and ended up dominating tennis news.

Gambling on tennis is nothing new but the volume of gambling has increased dramatically and for that we can credit technology. Online gambling has made gambling much more accessible. Unless you live in the United States – offshore gambling is illegal in the U.S. – all you have to do is logon to betfair.com and start placing bets on tennis matches.

Technology cuts both ways. It makes it easier to lay down bets but it also makes it easier to uncover suspicious betting patterns which may indicate match fixing. That’s exactly what happened during a match between Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo-Arguello at the Prokom Open in August and everyone, and I mean everyone, has been tripping over themselves to assure us that gambling will not happen at their tournament.

Australian Open organizers are going crazy to make it clear that they won’t tolerate match fixing. They moved a bookmaker off their premises and banned laptops from the stands. Meanwhile, someone can sign on to betfair.com and fix a match and we might not be able to prove it. An investigator might be able to trace the gambler through an internet address but might not be able to connect a player in the fixed match to the gambler.

What if the gambler is part of a larger organization? Consider this as a hypothetical example. Tony Soprano, head of the fictional Sopranos mafia family, fixes a tennis match. If the ATP were able to track down Soprano’s whereabouts, the FBI might be much more interested in murder and mayhem than a possible fixed tennis match and the ATP would be limited in its investigation.

Since August my gambling education has gone through the roof. I know how to convert US odds to fractional odds and fractional odds to decimal odds. I know what a suspicious betting pattern looks like and I even broke the story of a possible fixed match between Tatiana Poutchek and Mariya Koryttseva in September.

Gambling has been out there all along. Onthepunt.com reported a number of suspicious betting patterns on tennis.com and no doubt tennis players have a few stories of their own. The tennis world is finally catching up to the horse racing world and the rest of the sports world. Professional tennis now monitors betting patterns on internet betting sites.

It’s not a horrible development, it’s just a fact of sports life. Gambling might even help increase the popularity of tennis. Heaven knows we can use it.

The 2008 tennis season has begun. There are tournaments galore on both the men’s and women’s side. I’ll get on to that tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

Teddy Awards

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Lots of Russians pop up when the conversation switches to match fixing.

I’ve been to a lot of self-help workshops in my life, everything from a Sluts and Goddesses workshop to something called Opening the Heart. At one of these workshops we broke into an inner and outer circle. The people in the inner circle rotated to one person at a time in the outer circle and told them one thing they noticed about them.

The organizers of the workshop told us not to get a swell head if one person said something wonderful about us. But they also said that if two or three people said the same thing, there’s probably truth to it. If two or three people think you’re funny, you probably are. If two or three people think your hairpiece looks ridiculous, it probably does.

Since Nikolay Davydenko kicked off the gambling issue in professional tennis after Betfair voided all bets on his match with Martin Vassallo-Arguello in August, the Russian Mafia’s involvement in match fixing has been mentioned at least two or three times.

I’m beginning to think there’s truth to it.

When the first reports came out about Davydenko’s match, they mentioned Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov, a Russian mafia figure who’d been implicated in the bribery of ice skating judges in the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Tokhtakhounov has some connections to the Russian tennis federation. Russian player Andrei Medvedev gave him a Mercedes Benz and Yevgeny Kafelnikov calls him a good friend.

Here’s a good indication that Tokhtakhounov is a mobster: he was jailed twice in the 1970’s and 1980’s for parasitism. At that time it was a crime to be unemployed in Russia because the unemployed were viewed as parasites, but parasitism also describes the mafia perfectly. They make a living by skimming money off the top of other people’s work.

Kafelnikov actually preceded Davydenko in the suspicious match department. Betting on a first round match between Kafelnikov and Fernando Vicente in 2003 was suspended by bookmakers because large bets were placed on Vicente even though he’d lost his eleven previous matches. Curiously, Betfair was the only betting exchange that stayed open throughout that match.

Why didn’t Kafelnikov’s match kick off the gambling controversy instead of Davydenko’s match? Why didn’t the ATP create a gambling czar and hire experts to monitor betting patterns in 2003?

I can think of a few reasons. The money wagered on tennis was nowhere near as great in 2003 and it is now and online betting exchanges have a lot to do with that. Also, players didn’t come forward in 2003 and say that they’d been approached by people wanting them to influence the outcome of a match. Given the number of players who’ve come forward since the Davydenko match, you have to think that there wasn’t widespread match fixing in 2003 because we’d have heard something about it.

As far as I remember, all of the players that came forward after the Davydenko match were ATP players. Now players in the WTA have come forward. Larry Scott, the CEO of the WTA, told the Daily Mail that “quite a few players” had come forward and there were “quite a few approaches.”.

The women evidently are not media hogs like the ATP players are because they told the WTA directly about being approached instead of going to the media first. Maybe that’s why the ATP passed the forty eight hour rule: players are required to notify the ATP if anyone approaches them and asks them to throw a match within 48 hours. The ATP was probably tired of hearing about match-fixing attempts from the media instead of the players themselves.

Scott also said something that fits into our theme of the day: “’We have got particular concerns about Russia, there’s a lot of activity that comes out of there but it is not the only country.”

I’m assuming Scott’s comments refer to players being approached in Russia rather than any concrete information about match fixing but we are beginning to get some bits of concrete information. The ATP told Davydenko that it has found nine Betfair accounts owned by Russians who would have won $1.5 million if Betfair had paid out on his match with Vassallo-Arguello.

Maybe the Russian mafia has lost some of its business or maybe more people are going into the business and need new opportunities. Whatever the reason, tennis has become a hot commodity because there a lot of people who say they’ve been approached and offered money.

Gambling has been biggest news in tennis this year. I’d love to see the numbers waged on tennis matches versus total television contracts and tournament prize money. I’m willing to bet that gambling money outdoes all other tennis income by millions.

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