Wimbledon 2006: betting on Bloomfield

Tennis isn’t as popular as many other sports because there’s not enough controversy. Today you could read the toxicology report on former baseball pitcher Steve Howe who died in a car accident – he had methamphetamine in his system. Another baseball player, Brett Myers, has taken a leave of absence from his team, the Philadelphia Phillies, after witnesses saw him hit his wife then drag her along the ground by her hair on a Boston street. Even lacrosse has more controversy. This week’s Sports Illustrated has an exhaustive article about the ongoing controversy over the handling of rape charges against three Duke University lacrosse players.

I doubt that tennis will ever force Henin-Hardenne to admit that she has an upset tummy or require Federer to admit that he’s exhausted, but it’s reasonable to require Berlocq to disclose a foot injury.

The best that tennis can do is a mini gambling controversy. A person or group of people bet over $500,000 that Carlos Berlocq would lose to Richard Bloomfield in the first round at Wimbledon. Bloomfield beat Berlocq, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. On the face of it, the match looks like it was fixed. The Argentine Berlocq is ranked number 89 and Bloomfield, a British wildcard entry, is ranked number 259. But if you look at my Wimbledon draw, which I posted Saturday night, I have Bloomfield over Berlocq because Berlocq has played exactly one match on grass, which he lost. Bloomfield is 8-20 on grass though all of his victories came in challenger tournaments or ATP qualifying events.

There are a few possible scenarios and a few certainties.

Insider Trading: Somebody close to Berlocq could have had injury information about him and knew that it was a pretty safe bet he’d lose to Bloomfield. Berlocq said he injured his foot during his first round loss to Ivan Ljubicic in the French Open.

The Fix: Berlocq decided that he wanted to equal his career earnings in one day and agreed to throw the match for half the total bets laid down. Not likely. Too obvious.

Stupidity: It’s certain that the bettors were not particularly smart. Not smart enough to know that a half million dollar bet on one player in this match would arouse suspicion and cause problems for the players involved.

Inexperience: It also seems certain that the bettors were not experienced else they would have known that gambling organizations report betting irregularities to the sports organization involved.

Tennis has some responsibility here. Imagine betting a huge amount of money on Justine Henin-Hardenne in the Australian Open final only to have the bet nullified by her retirement in the match. You would be none too happy. And look at this quote from Roger Federer before his first round match at Wimbledon this week:

This year, I’m feeling fine. Very relieved that I didn’t have to put up the poker face and say, look, I’m feeling great, but feeling terrible. Last year that was the case.

I doubt that tennis will ever force Henin-Hardenne to admit that she has an upset tummy or require Federer to admit that he’s exhausted, but it’s reasonable to require Berlocq to disclose a foot injury.

Major league sports have rules involving injuries. The National Football League, for instance, requires teams to disclose the exact nature of injuries to players who might not be able to play in upcoming games. That makes sense in a team sport because teams can move a player to the injured list and put a replacement on the roster. But it’s also required to allow an opponent to properly prepare for the game. If Tom Brady can’t play, that affects your game plan drastically.

Tennis players should get the same consideration. It’s nice that David Nalbandian says he’s not fully recovered from an abdominal strain in a press conference after a match at Wimbledon, but that’s too late to help the player he just beat. If Berlocq discloses that he is playing with a foot injury, his opponent knows that he should run him around the court as much as possible and bettors will know what odds to lay on the match.

The ATP involves itself with gambling organizations so that it can monitor possible instances of game fixing and discourage its players from betting on tennis matches, they don’t make rules to protect a gambler’s interests, but requiring players to disclose injuries would not only be fair to their opponents, it would help discourage irregular betting patterns because everyone would know if a player was limping out onto the court with little chance of winning.