Tennis Tanking – players losing on purpose

EduardoSchwankIn Andre Agassi’s most recent autobiography, Agassi mentions that in the Australian Open semi-final of 1996, he lost on purpose to Michael Chang so that he wouldn’t have to meet up with Boris Becker in the final. He admits that he held a grudge against Becker who he said had once blew kisses to his former wife Brooke Shields. Michael Chang, naturally, disregards the comments by Agassi claiming that the match was played in windy difficult conditions, and when he started getting on top of his opponent, Aggassi found a reason to stop trying to the best of his ability.

It’s an interesting theory from Agassi who lost 6-1 6-4 7-6 against Chang. One has to question if he was losing on purpose then why take the final set to a tiebreak? Despite this, what is clear is that if tanking took place in this game, it was not for any financial reward. The possibility of Agassi making the finals and then perhaps winning the Australian Open would have had returned a substantial return as well as improved his ranking.

The confession made by Agassi 15 years ago, has no effect on the game of tennis played today. However are matches being tanked in similar circumstances today?

The answer is absolutely yes.

A casual tennis observer may not realise that a game is being tanked, but for a gambler it is as glaring as possible, and there is no more glaring example than the most recent Chela vs Schwank match held this week.  In case you didn’t know, both players are Argentinian, which Chela ranked 31 in the world compared to Schwank’s 104.

Chela has been in impressive form on the red clay up until this stage, only just losing the final of the Copa Claro in Buenos Aires the week before in three sets. For this round one match Chela started understandably favourite at 1.46 with Schwank at 2.93.

But these odds were remarkably different come start time. Chela has moved into a rank outsider at 3.50 before a ball has been served and bookmakers took the game off the market. PinnacleSports for example, took the game off the market when Chela’s price has only reached 2.24, and from then it continued to drift.

Was something afoot? Was Chela sporting an injury that made him unlikely to win the match? It seems not. Chela won the first set reasonably easily 6-3, claiming 60% of the points played. However despite winning the first set, his price was at 2.80 at betfair. It had come in from 3.50 before the start of play, but why should Chela, the higher ranked player, the player in form showing no signs of injury who has just won the first set still be seen as the rank outsider?

It didn’t stop there. Chela continued to dominate in the second set, winning a healthy 5-1 advantage. When serving for the set, Chela’s odds were only 1.90. What this means is despite Chela being up 6-3 5-1 and serving for the match, according to the odds, the game was a near 50-50 chance for either player.

Chela then saw a doctor and retired from the match citing injury. All bets on Schwank won.

It would have to be one of the most dubious matches in sport history, and whilst one can say that the match wasn’t tanked by Chela, one can easily say that there were many people out there who knew that Chela was not going to win the match. Hunderds of thousands of dollars could have been bet on Schwank and large profits made.

But it’s not the first time that such tanking has occurred in tennis. From my own betting, I believe there to be at least 5 matches a year where players lose on purpose. In April last year, Chela played Schwank and Schwank was fined US$1,000 for erratic and unusual play. Schwank said a back problem cause him to play a more than normal amount of drop shots and lobs. He even served a foot fault on match point.

It’s clear to me, although hard to prove, that these two Argentinians have one over the ATPTour.

Tanking occurs when the amount of money that one can gain via betting outweighs the potential gain from prize money for the tournament. Hence it more often occurs in early rounds in small tournaments out of the way of most of the worlds media.

A blight on the game it is indeed, and whilst the ATP has said that players could receive three year bans and then lifetime bans on repeat occurrence, their own anti-corruption rules, to this date, have only handed out petty small fines of which players and affiliates could well have already paid off by losing on purpose.

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2 Responses to Tennis Tanking – players losing on purpose

  1. ap says:

    Chela is a dirty player, no doubt. I’m surprised you didn’t mention his match vs Giraldo on February 4th. Same story, prematch odds bet Giraldo into 1.27 when he was over 3.0 earlier.

  2. Steve says:

    Agree 100%, as more and more players are getting away with this, it seems to be occurring even more. I have noticed about 3 games already this year that seemed fixed. The ATP needs to step up and ban these players for a minimum of a year to stop anyone else from trying this again. Another issue is that maybe the players had no choice, this could happen if mafia types get involved and leave them very little option.

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