The Extra Word on … the latest test for tennis & integrity

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Updated: February 5, 2015

Welcome to this regular TIW column, highlighting some of the stories and results that have caught the punting eye of our editor-in-chief Sean Callander.

 

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Since we launched The Inside Word just over 12 months ago, I can safely say I’ve learned more about racing and sports than in my previous 25-plus years as a sports reporter/journalist. Sadly, one of those lessons relates to the level of match-fixing, spot-fixing, tanking and point-shaving that occurs at national and international levels across a range of sports and racing.

In recent days, to provide just one example, one of our network of contacts informed us of an impending spot-fixing “opportunity” in a very high-profile T20 cricket match. Three balls were to be delivered in specific order after a ‘signal’ from the bowler was given that the fix was in. We were informed six hours before the first ball was bowled in that match. Due to the laws of defamation in this country, it’s not possible for us to publish full details (and our contact deserves some protection for taking us into his trust).

That brings us to the case of world No. 174 tennis player Denys Molchanov. Two days ago, the Ukrainian faced Argentine Agustin Velotti in the first round of an ATP Challenger event in Dallas, Texas. Compared to the Australian Open that has wrapped up two days previous, prizemoney for the winner of this tournament was just $14,400 while only $1040 was on offer for first round losers.

According to Pinnacle Sports, the market opened with Molchanov favoured to win the match at a price of $1.63, which converts to a 61% chance of victory. By the time it closed, Molchanov had drifted to $1.77 but that was hardly setting off alarm bells. The first concern was raised in a tennis chatroom when it was questioned why Molchanov immediately shot out to a price of $2.36, with little response from the market.

 

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Even after clinching the first break of serve, Molchanov’s price continued to drift. At 5-3 down in the opening set, the price on Agustin Velotti was as short as it had been throughout the entire match. Despite being broken serving for the set, Molchanov (pictured above in action during Australian Open qualifying in 2012, with thanks to Kevin Peterson) immediately broke back and with the second chance to serve for the set, the price on Velotti continued to fall.

Having been priced as 48.3% chance to win the match at the start, he was now priced as a 75.2% chance of winning the match, despite being down a break and potentially about to lose the opening set of the match. In other words, Velotti was apparently significantly more likely to win the match at this point than he was at the start. It was at this point that I was first informed from one of our handicappers in the US, but the secret was well and truly out thanks to Twitter feeds and forums across the planet.

Here’s where the sublime progressed to the ridiculous. Molchanov successful served out the opening set and Velotti’s price continued to drop. Now, you don’t need any major understanding of betting and odds to understand that a player who was given a 48.3% chance of winning a tennis match before the start should not be given an 80.6% chance of winning a match at a set down. By this time, there was already close to £250,000 staked on the match, which is an unusually high amount for a Challenger match.

And there was support for Velotti at $1.09 (or a 91.7% chance of winning the match), despite starting as the outsider and never having been ahead in the match. By our calculations, Velotti should have been rated approximately a 20 per cent chance of winning the match. But the money flowed like a flooded creek for the outright result, to go with a price of $1.50 for him to win the second set. By the time the Argentine went up a break in the second set, it was abundantly clear what was happening.

 

TEWtennis1bNothing that was happening on court was impacting the market (a summary of which is displayed above with thanks to Betfair). To state the obvious, it could be suggested that someone knew exactly how this match would end. Velotti went on to win the second set and after a brief flurry in the opening stages of the third set, Molchanov duly gave up a break in the third. By this point, Velotti was guaranteed to win according to the market. Molchanov won just five points on the Velotti serve in the third set, one of which came via a Velotti double fault. By the end of the match, almost £600,000 had been matched on the Betfair match-winner.

Velotti … appeared to be playing his match normally, acting normally, although there were suggestions that he seemed a little confused as the match progressed

Let us stress that there is no suggestion that Agustin Velotti had anything to do with any of the suspicious activity that took place in this match, and in the attached markets. He appeared to be playing his match normally, acting normally, although there were suggestions that he seemed a little confused as the match progressed. People watching the live stream of the match reported that there were a number of very strange errors being made by Molchanov off very simple shots and it is understandable that Velotti may have been puzzled by what was happening.

But it’s tough not to suspect Molchanov in this situation. The odds movements in the match simply cannot be explained. With a narrow favourite, that player becoming a slight outsider as the opening set progressed is plausible depending on how the players were performing. However, a narrow favourite becoming a huge outsider while ahead in the set and having won the opening set is simply not plausible. On Betfair, the only possible scenario in which these odds movements might happen was if there was a major injury to Molchanov and the market expected an imminent retirement. For the record, the match finished 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 in favour of Velotti.

Despite all the evidence, we’re confident that no action will be taken. In August last year, a similar incident occurred in a Maserati Challenger tournament in Meersbusch, Germany in a match between Boy Westerhof and Antal van der Duim. It was not the first time that either of those players had been involved in controversy but the silence of the ATP, the ITF and the TIU was deafening. They are either unwilling, or unable to take action. All we can do is to flag up these matches in the hopes that something will be done for the good of the sport.

Note: Special thanks to the team at DW Sport for providing the data used in this column

 

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