One week after BuzzFeed and the BBC published allegations of rampant match-fixing in professional tennis, a new report in the New York Times on Sunday said a popular sports betting website temporarily suspended betting on its site after a swell of suspicious betting activity arose in the hours preceding a mixed doubles match at the 2016 Australian Open.
Ahead of a first-round match pitting Lara Arruabarrena and David Marrero against Andrea Hlavackova and Lukasz Kubot, large amounts of money poured in on what would normally be an obscure contest, said Marco Blume, head of sportsbook at the website, Pinnacle Sports, one of the largest and most influential betting websites in the world.
Nearly all of the money on the site came in on Hlavackova and Kubot, who routed the Spanish duo of Arruabarrena and Marrero, 6-0, 6-3. Both Arruabarrena and Marrero rejected any allegation of match-fixing, and Marrero cited a knee injury to explain the loss. He also suggested that playing mixed doubles means he can’t play his hardest.
“Normally, when I play, I play full power, in doubles or singles,” Marrero said.”But when I see the lady in front of me, I feel my hand wants to play, but my head says, ‘Be careful.’ This is not a good combination.”
According to the Times, a first-round mixed doubles match typically doesn’t bring in more than a few thousand dollars on their website. This match was much different.
From the report:
First-round mixed doubles matches typically generate little gambling action, but more than $25,000 had been wagered on another website, the betting exchange Betfair, a few hours before the match was scheduled to start. By comparison, three other mixed doubles matches scheduled for similar times on Sunday had generated less than $2,000 combined.
No similarly suspicious betting activity has been seen on other matches at the tournament, Blume told NYT, which helped the site detect this particular match.
“We saw a small number of people placing a large amount of money.” Blume told the Times. “In context, these matches are rather small. That means that any aggressive betting behaviour is very easy to detect on our side.”
Several unforced errors by Marrero have added to suspicions of possible foul play.
Here’s one double-fault, up 30-0 in a game early in the match:
And a wide forehand:
“I am professional,” Marrero said of the allegations. “I try to make my best tennis on the court. If you see all my matches, I don’t like to pull out of tournaments.”
He did acknowledge that if he had retired in the middle of the match because of injury, or pulled out beforehand, he wouldn’t have received the prize money.
Of course, when injuries are involved, gamblers may not need the players involved to fix the match. The gamblers may only need insider information about the injury that is not known to the general public. This was a point Marrero brought up.
Asked to explain the suspicious betting activity, he said someone must have known about his injury, even though neither he nor his partner disclosed it. From NYT:
Marrero and Arruabarrena said they had not told anyone but their coaches, tournament doctors and another pair of Spanish players about Marrero’s injury. Still, they said, it was possible that a spectator could have noticed that Marrero was affected by the injury in practice Saturday.
“Someone had to know this,” Arruabarrena said.
Officials told NYT that in light of the BuzzFeed and BBC reports, they have been monitoring the Australian Open very closely.
“The law enforcement agencies are watching this area very closely,” John Eren, the minister of sport for Victoria, told NYT. “Of course we’ve seen it in many different sports, not just tennis. And that’s really sad because at the end of the day, 99.9 per cent of the sport-loving community don’t behave in that way. It’s important to stamp these out very quickly, and I’m hoping that the relevant authorities will act quickly and swiftly to deal with some of these matters.”
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