In terms of match fixing cricket has been sport of choice for sport betting syndicates - however, tennis is certainly becoming “area of interest” for this type of unscrupulous activities.
And it easy to see why?
In tennis - only top 20 world-rank players earn more than spend. It costs well over $100 000 a year to attend tournaments, pay couching staff, pay for equipment.. And if you are not among top 20 you are probably not making any money. And so, temptations to throw the set for $200 000 on some B-level tournament are just too great! So, to curb this match-fixing scourge - tennis administrators have to start thinking of how to divide a cake into more slices, where more top players are financially rewarded. Otherwise...
So, what am I talking about?
One of the Buzzfeed’s top investigative journalists – John Templon, together with BBC released details of investigations that found core group of 16 players who would loose set against opponents they would usually not lose - only when large and suspicious bets were taken against them! What makes story even more significant is that all of the suspect players are within top 50, and half of them were still active, as recently as in Australian Open.
However, what makes the story really interesting is how all this unfolded.
Templon started with constructing ATP based dataset from 2009 to 2015, enriched with data from half-dozen bookmakers. Next step was to construct so called “target variable” – which is indicated the change of loss-odds greater than 10%. In other words, goal was to find the games where chances of player losing have changed by more than 10 percentage points before game was played - as result of a heavy bet taken against same player.
In conclusion, data mining search algorithms were used to find specific players and specific games – that were lost when someone put heavy bets against them. However, if heavy bets were not played against - chances of these games being lost were miniscule: 1 in 8000.
That was enough for investigators to search more in detail – and of course – after analyzing suspect player call record data prior to these suspect matches – it was clear that in many of these cases - bookmakers were on the other side of the line!
However, in initial results – there was one "suspect" name that casual tennis fans would recognize – Lleyton Hewwit. Soon, it became clear that he was loosing sets against all odds for some other specific reasons and because of match-fixing. That prompted analysts to further tweak algorithmic search criteria in hope to produce more refined selection of suspects.
Investigation continues and it will be interested to see its final outcome.