I'm not a big tennis fan --I kind of lost interest not long after Bjorn Borg retired, to give you an idea-- but it's been fun to read Wyman Meer's reports from the U.S. Open here. They've been upbeat and positive, something I'm not going to be when discussing tennis.
It's always dicey to try and predict how fans of a sport will react to bad news concerning said sport. For example, I thought that when the steroids thing hit baseball ca. the early 1990's that fans would be outraged and demand action. Instead, there seemed to be a collective shrug and an attitude of "Ooooohhhh, look at the baseballs leaving the park in record numbers". To me, it's been mentioned enough times over the years by enough people to be a given that tennis matches that aren't major tournaments, you know the [insert obscure sponsor] Open in [insert obscure town here], are full of nudge nudge wink wink agreements between about who's going to win. A court case in Austria could take that whole quid pro quo thing to another level.
Irakli Labadze is a Georgian who was ranked 42nd in the world in 2004 (currently: 824th). He's part of a court case in Korneuburg, accused of deliberately losing a match at the Raiffeisen [obscure sponsor! they're a bank] Grand Prix event in Sankt Pölten, Austria [obscure town! hey, wait: Wikipedia says they have an American football team, the Invaders, how obscure can they be in that case?] to an unseeded local player, Julian Knowle. Pretty unremarkable story at this point, I'd say.
Here's where it gets sticky: a gambler with the unfortunate name of Martin Fuehrer (it's probably spelled Führer but I couldn't confirm that in the English language reports of this) won a cool €17,000 (about $23,200) on a €10,000 (about $13,700) bet, not a bad return. Under Austrian law, Mr. Labadze has only been politely asked to show up in court to answer questions about his involvement in the alleged match fixing, he's not obligated to do so. Now, of course, I wouldn't be rash enough to claim that Irakli Labadze is going to help topple the popular sport of tennis, but it's a "tip of the iceberg" thing.
Friend of Outsports and Andy Roddick fan Andy Towle has an item (and hot Andy Roddick shot) about an article in French sports daily L'Equipe that details an even more damning case of potential match fixing. I'm always wary of "unamed sources" who "request anonymity", but this is of piece with an investigation in to the very shady circumstances surrounding Nikolay Davydenko, wherein a British online gambling site, Betfair, received a staggering $10 million in bets on a match between Davydenko, a U.S. Open semifinalist last year and 87th ranked Argentinian Martin Vassallo Arguello in [obscure town!] Sopot, Poland. Betfair canceled all bets after the match as that's about 7 or 8 times the action what a match for players at their level would receive; most of the bets backed Arguello, including bets posted after he won the first set. Davydenko won the second set, but forfeited after retiring in the third set with an injury. Hmmmmm....
I'm not a gambler at all --losing a 50 cent bet on the National League playoffs to my mom years ago because she liked the uniforms of one team better than another cured me of that, pretty much-- but there's crazy amounts of money to be had for people who win bets on sporting matches. Players aren't immune to temptation and, really, if they're offered a big chunk of money to throw a match at the [obscure sponsor!] Open in [obscure town!], I can see why a player who's ranked 397th would think "Shit, this is more than I'll make in six months, nobody is paying attention to this except my parents and friends, why not".
As a non-tennis fan, I can't speak for the hardcore tennis fans like the obsessives* on our message board, but if I found out there were widespread match fixing problems in a sport I love like baseball or English football, I'd be really, really bummed out. More on this to come, I'm sure. --Jim Allen
* not a pejorative, I am the last person to have any credibility criticizing people for being obsessive about something