Victoria

Match fixing: Police quiz Australian players and coaches

Victoria Police detectives questioned local tennis figures last week about which matches could be fixed in the first round of the Australian Open, only days before an explosive report was released that threatened to expose festering corruption in the sport.

Fairfax Media can reveal that current and former professional players and coaches believe match fixing is rife in the sport, with an Australian professional who has been ranked in the top 70 telling a coach he was approached weekly by crime figures asking him to throw matches.

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Tennis world in turmoil

Match fixing claims overshadow the Australian Open as the Association of Tennis Professionals and Tennis Integrity Unit deny allegations they hid or overlooked evidence of match fixing related to international crime syndicates.

One former player says authorities have been complicit in the corruption, by failing to train junior players about the perils of match fixing; giving former players little impetus to report corruption, as it could lessen their chances of a career in the sport after they retire; and not doing enough to prevent suspected fixers entering locker rooms, where they can prey on vulnerable, lowly-ranked players.

Detectives from the Victoria Police Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit approached at least one Australian tennis figure on Friday, only hours after the Australian Open draw was released, asking if any first-round matches had raised eyebrows.

The detectives were aware that the BBC and BuzzFeed were preparing to release a story on Monday - the first day of the Australian Open - about widespread match fixing in international tennis, and told the local tennis figure they wanted a "clean" grand slam.

The BBC and BuzzFeed report claimed that international body the Tennis Integrity Unit, the Association of Tennis Professionals' internal corruption body, was repeatedly warned about 16 players, all of whom have been ranked in the top 50. Eight of those players were set to play at the Australian Open.

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"The Tennis Integrity Unit and tennis authorities absolutely reject any evidence of match fixing has been suppressed for any reason or isn't thoroughly being investigated," ATP president Chris Kermode​ said on Monday.

"And while the BBC and BuzzFeed reports mainly refer to events from about 10 years ago, we will investigate any new information, and we always do. In its investigations, the Tennis Integrity Unit has to find evidence as opposed to information, suspicion or hearsay. This is the key here, that it requires evidence."

In 2014, the Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit exposed the only confirmed cases of tennis match fixing in Australian history, when it charged Matthew Fox, a Melbourne player formerly ranked in the 1200s, with betting on two fixed matches featuring Nick Lindahl​, a former top-200-ranked player and promising junior, and Adam Feeney.

While both players retired after the fixed matches, it can be revealed that Feeney remains a coach of juniors at the Tennis Australia-accredited Voyager Tennis in the Sydney suburb of Ryde, despite Fox being convicted of betting on a match that the court found Feeney tanked.

Another accredited coach, who was arrested but not charged over suspicions he bet on the fixed matches involving Feeney and Lindahl, remains the head coach of a Tennis Australia-accredited club in Melbourne.

Feeney and Tennis Australia did not respond to a request for comment.

Lindahl - who also used to work at Voyager - will face a NSW court next week to fight his charges of throwing a match.

Concerns about the influence on tennis of controversial punters, such as Sydney's Steve Fletcher, also appear to have been ignored by Tennis Australia and the Association of Tennis Professionals.

Exhibits tendered during NSW Police Integrity Commission hearings in 2013 into Mr Fletcher and released to Fairfax Media reveal claims that in 2004 he won $2.5 million in an hour using information about fixed matches that he received from a professional player.

The same year, Mr Fletcher sat in Lleyton Hewitt's players' box at Wimbledon during his third-round match against Goran Ivanisevic, according to emails from 2012 sent by a former NSW homicide squad detective and presented during the commission hearings.

According to the email, Mr Fletcher "had a mint" on Ivanisevic, and was cheering him from Hewitt's box, causing the then-top 10 Australian player to cut ties with Mr Fletcher.

The hearing heard that Mr Fletcher was also receiving tips from a former Australian professional player, who told him there was a "rort" in a women's doubles match being played in Thailand in 2013.

The player's name has been suppressed, but it can be revealed he was an outstanding junior who worked for a betting company - with which Mr Fletcher had accounts - after his retirement.

Other exhibits tendered during the hearing and released to Fairfax Media show that betting accounts linked to Mr Fletcher outlaid tens of thousands of dollars on tennis matches in less than four months during 2012.

The commission heard Mr Fletcher sometimes placed smaller bets, using accounts in his own name, on results that he suspected would lose, in a bid to convince authorities he was not involved in betting on the corrupted outcome.

Criminal charges were recommended by the commission against Mr Fletcher, but the Crown Solicitor's Office has still not decided whether to proceed - two years after the hearings concluded.

A former coach said there had long been suspicions surrounding a tight-knit group of Australian players and coaches, including the former professional who gave tips to Mr Fletcher, and Lindahl and Feeney.

Some of their close friends remain active on the tour, either as players or coaches. Others have lucrative positions as coaches, including at top US universities.

The coach said that locker-room rumours that Nikolay Davydenko made $16 million from fixing a 2007 match against Martin Vassallo Arguello - an allegation of which he was later cleared - fuelled a rash of match fixing on tour from players keen to make a quick buck before their careers ended.

Another former Australian professional, who reached a ranking in the top 30, said the ATP had turned its back on troubling instances of players retiring hurt when there appeared clear evidence the practice was linked to corruption.

Know more? Contact: nbucci@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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