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Match Fixing in Tennis: The Ugly Truth

Hey, it’s Jeff here, and I hope you’re having a great day out there. Now today, we’re going to talk about something very ugly in professional tennis, and no, we’re not going to talk about performance-enhancing drugs, although that is an ugly element of our sport. But today, we’re going to talk about match fixing, and I’m here to tell you today that it’s very real, and it’s somewhat common, very common. I wouldn’t want to say very common, probably too strong, but it’s happening on the pro tour, and it’s a very sad reality about our sport, and about money, and about greed, and temptation. And you know, the key here is that every player has to have their own level of integrity and character, and try to make the right choices. But I can see how it can be challenging, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

A few days ago, at the time of this recording, 18-year old Oliver Anderson, the reigning junior champion at the Australian Open, was charged with distorting a betting outcome, and he did this at a challenger – a $50,000 challenger in October. Now, when you say $50,000, the winner only gets $7,000. The loser, first round loser, gets about $500. Now, imagine the expenses to get to the tournament, to hire a coach, imagine if you’re only making $500 or a thousand dollars a week when you lose first or second round. The temptation there might be to pay the bills. What if you have a family? What if you have to support a child? What if you have credit card debt? What if you have to pay for the coach?

In pro tennis, there simply isn’t enough money being made by the lower-ranked players outside the top hundred to make an honest decent level of living. I mean, they’re going to make more money teaching tennis at the club. So, Oliver’s not the only one. Very recently, there were 34 players in Spain that were arrested for alleged match fixing at the futures level. They’re ranked between 800 and 1,200 in the world. These players are losing money on the tour. So, what if they play a match and they decide a bookie… someone’s going to pay them… a better’s going to pay them 30 grand to lose a match in the second round of the future or challenger, and all they have to do is go out there and play close until 4-all, miss a couple returns, miss a couple serves, make it look like they’re still trying, and pick up 30k in one day. It’s very tempting when you’re struggling, when you have a lot of pressure, when there’s fear. And some players succumb to that pressure. It’s very unfortunate.

When I was playing, there were 2 Italians: Daniel Bracciali and Potito Starace. Great players, top 50 players. Potito got to 31 in the world, I believe. Bracciali was a great doubles player. I think I actually played him in doubles once, might have even beaten him in the challenger, but they’ve been banned for life from tennis for alleged match fixes, and this is going on. These are only the players that are getting caught. In fact, when I was playing, especially in Grand Slams, I would hear stories about doubles players that would be in the locker room, and they would know singles players that were injured but were still going to play the match. Maybe they were a seed, and they were supposed to win, but they hurt their groin or their knee, and they still wanted to pick up the check. They still wanted to get their money. They would go play the match, and they would get their money, and they the doubles players would play spats on these matches. And this happened all the time, because doubles players needed to make a living too.

And again, I’m not condoning this. It’s wrong, but I can see where the temptation is, and so, even, you know, pro players are under a lot of scrutiny if they lose a match. In social media, they’ll have betters yelling at them, be it in social media about what a bad player they are, and it’s a very scary, harsh reality around pro tennis. And of course, they’re trying to clean it up, but it’s a very, very difficult situation. And the only thing that I can think of is, number one: every person has to look at themselves in the mirror and decide, do they want to be able to sleep at night, knowing that they’re cheating the sport and cheating themselves? Is that worth it? They have to look at themselves in the mirror and look at their own integrity, and their character, and their decision making. But also, it’s up to the governing bodies, coaches, mentors, to educate youngsters on the risk that they’re taking if they decide to get involved in this ugly side of sports

And finally, we have to find ways to get more money into the sport of tennis for players ranked 150, 200, 300, 400, 500, 800, to make more money, because if these players are making more money and it’s there isn’t such a huge disproportionate difference between the top 20 in the world and someone who’s 500 in the world, if they’re making more money, there’ll be less temptation for them to make these choices.

So again, let’s see if we can improve in those 3 areas. Let’s look at it, at ourselves, individually, see if we can live with more integrity and character. Let’s make sure our mentors and our coaches and governing bodies are teaching the youngsters what major decision they’re making, a negative decision for their lives and their careers if they do it and they caught. And number 3, let’s get more money, more prize money, into the sport of tennis.

So again, hopefully, you enjoyed this audio today, and feel free to leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you, and I’ll see you at the next email or audio. Thanks again for your time.

21 Comments

  1. Julie says:

    Sad but true Jeff. Our son just stopped playing Futures tournaments after 15 months. He was improving, and wanted to keep playing but with some injuries and doctors bills, just can’t afford it. He’s taken a job coaching and hoping to save money, have possible wrist surgery, and hopefully try again. It’s a rough sport for sure. Wish there was more prize $$ for theses young amazing players! I can see why they’re tempted by the bribes for sure.

  2. J J M says:

    Thx, Jeff, for your true honesty. Personally, I known it’s been around for many decades. Hearing this from a reputable individual as yourself means a lot to me. This takes a lot guts to present this for people to listen to. Of course there will be a lot of misbeleives bu you threw out a seed to understand it happens. People need to hear this as well as financial. Regards, JJM

  3. Paul Smith says:

    Excellent. I appreciate your specifics on how this can easily happen and why it is wrong.

  4. Mike Haier says:

    How to get more money in the sport though? It looks France is having a lot of success with their money tournaments and universal rating system for up and coming players. We need club owners in the US to start hosting more money tournaments so players have another revenue stream.

    • Jeff Salzenstein says:

      It’s a tough one, Mike. Maybe the USTA can help. But ultimately the ATP has to find a way to distribute the money better form top to bottom. It is too top heavy.

  5. Definitely agree that there needs to be more prize money for players in the early rounds of Futures/Challengers.

    The players are entertainers and should also be given free accommodation, meals etc when there.

    This happens at most French non-ITF events.

    It probably costs (on site) $300-$400 to just ‘exist’ at a tournament then with a coach and travel expenses.

    It is wrong for players to accept money for throwing matches – but more also should be done to limit betting and the numbers of people making money from betting sites.

    I’ve never put money on anything ever so don’t understand the ‘thrill’ of placing a bet – but I’ve seen, as I work for a bank, people who can’t afford to pay for the basics because they’ve blown all their cash on betting! Crazy!

    So, also don’t forget to punish the betting companies – limit their advertising.

    It’s basic economics that players chasing their dreams would accept $30k to tank matches or give insider information. $30k may be more than they make all year!

    • Jeff Salzenstein says:

      You are right, Martin! Money and greed hurts the sport. And people get a rush from betting for some reason. I have never been a better so I don’t get that.

  6. Jim Van Wyck says:

    Arghhhh… I really hate the dirty side of big time sports… almost as much as I love tennis. Thanks for giving us this insight into match fixing.

    ==>Jim

  7. Adrian G. Sahlean says:

    That’s a very good presentation – it was surprising to hear about the large sums offered at the futures and challengers… Betting is making that possible, of course! It is a somewhat different case at the great slams since it is understandable you want to double your earning in the next round, playing under your potential because of an injury you don’t declare… And, what if the opponent twists his ankle running or falls on his wrist and cannot continue? You mTheight even have time to recover and be ready for the next round, with even more money in your pocket… I definitely cannot put those instances in the same category… Yes, I agree there should be more money for players ranked 100-500… The solution could be a more equal distribution of the monies between winner and loser. It does not make sense to see the winner get double (especially at Great Slams) when quite often the result is decided by a few points and the ‘loser’ may have even missed at match-point!!! Why not a 60/40, even 55/45 distribution?

  8. Robert says:

    A German coach recently opined that the top 300 soccer players in the world are millionaires, but in tennis at the #300 level you need to be subsidized to stay out there. I am way too far down the food chain to understand how national associations who sponsor GS and other major tournaments distribute the prize money across their tournaments, but it seems to me that the system is untenable from the standpoint of development.

  9. Joe says:

    The top players make much more on endorsements and appearance fees than they do in prize money, and it will be that way for the rest of their lives…….it seems to me that some of that money could be sent down the food chain to give lower ranked players a “salary” where they are guaranteed a certain amount of income as long as they stay in the top 200. Some of that money could also subsidize futures and challenger tournaments. Then make it illegal to bet on any tournaments outside below the challenger level…or even the top pro level, and no bets can be taken unless both competitors are ranked 150 or higher…..betting junkies will still have an outlet for their “hobby”, but poor players will not be able to fix anything. Players ranked in the top 150 would risk losing their incomes, and their careers ….hope that makes sense.

  10. pd says:

    i agree that more US clubs/public should host $ tourneys. Around the world this is routine, the USA stubs it s toe. thanks pd.

  11. Ahmed says:

    Hi Jeff,
    It is my pleasure to comment on your valuable article as I am really interested in tennis.
    I think the big problem here is that the future and challenger tournaments do not produce revenue, so how can the ATP or the ITF increase the prize money for these categories?????
    First, the future could be considered an investment from the players in their futures . The national federations may help their promising players to participate in these tournaments. It is OK for these level.
    Second, most of the challengers do not generate high income. It is very difficult to find sponsors to cover the prize money and hospitality for many tournamnets.

    The main solution is to REDISTRIBUTE the prize money. DOUBLING the prize at each round is extremely unfair.
    AND players can ask for more prize money at the grand slams and masters for the low-ranked players
    The challengers should be treated like developmental NBA as the ATP and ITF should pay for support. For example, more than 6 million attended 2016 season on court. If each ticket increases by 2 dollars under the title of game development, The ATP collect 12 M dollars. Furthermore, the ATP can take 1 million from each grand slam revenue annually which is NOTHING for them. So we have 16M every years for the Challenger level beside their financial commitment in 2016 (about 9M dollars) so IT IS 25M at least prize money for this tier of the sport
    IMAGINE the 150 tournaments will be like that (50 of 225K $ and 100 of 112500$) and NOW we can cancel the 43K and 50K tournaments.
    REDISTRIBUTION will be like that (for 112500)
    W 10000
    R 7000
    S 5000
    Q 3500
    R16 2500
    R32 1500
    for singles which account for 75% of the prize money
    and this will be the least category in challenger

    Imagine again the winner of US open earns only 1.5 M$ and the first-round lose gets nearly 100K $ (GREAT….. the world number 128 may get nearly 400K$ only from eliminating from first rounds in the 4 grand slams)
    Last year I read that the US open income was more than 300M$ and the players had only 47M which is about 15% ( very low compared with other sports)
    Increasing the money for the qualifying rounds in grand slams and masters is more easier in those in challengers certainly.

    hope to hear from you

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