Tennis: Players were warned of match-fixing allegations

Match-fixing scandal forms a cloud over the Australian Open. Photo: Cameron SpencerTennis Australia was tipped off about the match-fixing allegations more than a month before the tournament started, with the ATP warning players of the bombshell that was about to be dropped.

Fairfax Media has been told the ATP informed all players at a compulsory meeting at a Melbourne CBD hotel on Saturday. It is understood Tennis Australia also spoke to the management teams of several Australian players  leading into the tournament, to familiarise them with what was subsequently released by BBC and Buzzfeed on Monday.

It is understood several players have been approached in the past month by several media organisations in regards to suspicious betting and match-fixing in the  sport.

It is understood Tennis Australia was aware of the players  the BBC and Buzzfeed believed had allegedly been involved in matches with suspicious betting fluctuations.

The BBC/Buzzfeed did not release the players’ names, referring to them by code.

On Thursday, another website, Show Legend, claimed to have decoded the Buzzfeed algorithm and released a list of names on social media, including Lleyton Hewitt, that it alleged was the focus of the Buzzfeed report.

While the third-party report strongly rejected any suggestion Hewitt was involved in any dubious activity, the ATP and Tennis Australia are hellbent on ensuring the Australian legend’s reputation is not tarnished by the whole episode.

It is understood ATP and Tennis Australia solicitors are ready to launch a legal attack on any organisation that implies the two-time grand slam champion is involved or connected to match-fixing.

Fairfax Media contacted Hewitt’s agent David Drysdale, who backed his client’s stand in the press conference following his exit from the Australian Open on Thursday night.

“It is absolutely ludicrous that anyone would think Lleyton Hewitt would be involved in anything like this,” Drysdale said.

“Everyone in this country knows his character and there’s no questioning his integrity.”

Using an algorithm from information provided in the Buzzfeed report, decoders identified 15 players and a series of matches that raised flags because of betting irregularities.

Fifteen Hewitt matches were flagged, including at least one in the Davis Cup, outraging tennis purists and a country that widely recognises the 34-year-old as one of the most competitive athletes Australia has produced.

While Hewitt’s farewell was somewhat overshadowed by the speculation, the veteran did not shy away from the drama, describing it as “absurd” that his name had been thrown into the controversy.

“I think it’s a joke to deal with it,” Hewitt said of the saga after his career-ending straight-sets loss to David Ferrer.

“You know, obviously, yeah, there’s no possible way. I know my name’s now been thrown into it. I don’t think anyone here would think that I’ve done anything corruption or match-fixing. It’s just absurd.

“For anyone that tries to go any further with it, then good luck. Take me on with it. Yeah, it’s disappointing. I think throwing my name out there with it makes the whole thing an absolute farce.”

Hewitt is not the only high-profile tennis player to have his name publicly linked to suspicious betting activity.

A report in Italian newspaper Tuttosport linked Novak Djokovic to betting irregularities in a match he lost in 2007 to Frenchman Fabrice Santoro.

The world No.1 strongly denied the accusations, also describing it as absurd.

“It’s not true,” Djokovic said.

“What it is to say? I’ve lost that match. I don’t know if you’re trying to create a story about that match or for that matter any of the matches of the top players losing in the early rounds, I think it’s just absurd. Anybody can create a story about any match. That’s my point.

“There hasn’t been too many matches where top players lost in last decade or so in early rounds. You can pick any match that you like that the top player lost and just create a story out of it. I think it’s not supported by any kind of proof, any evidence, any facts. It’s just speculation. So I don’t think there is a story about it.”

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