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Investigators look into irregular betting patterns for U.S. Open match

USA TODAY USA TODAY 7/09/2016 Nick McCarvel

NEW YORK — A first round match at the U.S. Open last week was flagged for irregular betting patterns, the Tennis Integrity Unit confirmed to USA TODAY Sports Wednesday, saying the match is the lone case of such patterns at the tournament this year.

“As with all cases, the TIU will assess, make a judgment and take appropriate action on the alert information received and obtained for the first round singles match,” Mark Harrison, a spokesman for the TIU, wrote in an email.

The match was between No. 15 seed Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland and Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia. Diatchenko, ranked No. 677, was playing at the Open with a protected ranking, having not competed since the French Open due to leg and Achilles injuries.

Bacsinszky won 6-1, 6-1.

“We were alerted and made aware of” the irregularities, said Chris Widmaier, the USTA’s communications manager, in an interview with USA TODAY Sports.

“This is a matter for the TIU and we have full faith in their investigatory practices,” he said. “We believe that this is an isolated incident as betting alerts can be triggered by a number of different practices.”

Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, shown here playing Varvara Lepchenko during the 2016 U.S. Open, was involved in a match that was identified for irregular betting patterns. In that match, she played Vitalia Diatchenko. © Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland, shown here playing Varvara Lepchenko during the 2016 U.S. Open, was involved in a match that was identified for irregular betting patterns. In that match, she played Vitalia Diatchenko. Ben Rothenberg, a freelance writer reporting for the New York Times, was the first to report that irregular betting patterns were discovered. 

Tennis was rocked by headlines at the Australian Open this year, when Buzzfeed and the BBC teamed up to release a report that implicated match fixing and the betting around it to be a deep-rooted problem in the sport.

That led to the formation of an Independent Review Panel to look at the issue in the sport, as well as the inner-workings of the TIU, which was formed in 2008.

The TIU said that it was following protocol for the Bacsinszky-Diatchenko match.

“There is a well-defined process for betting organizations to report match alerts to the TIU,” Harrison said. “That protocol should operate in a confidential fashion and involves the TIU using its expertise to assess every alert it receives, on its merits.”

Harrison continued: “Publicizing match alerts not only departs from that process, but is premature and inevitably draws unwarranted attention to the players involved in the match. Under the Tennis Anti-Corruption Program, all players are considered innocent unless proven otherwise at an independent anti-corruption hearing.”

A mixed doubles match at the Australian Open in January that included David Marrero, Lara Arruabarrena, Andrea Hlavakova and Lukasz Kubot also caused irregular betting patterns, though all players were later exonerated by the TIU.

“We do not believe that there is anything nefarious here,” said the USTA’s Widmaier.

Widmaier confirmed that the USTA had provided the TIU with full video of the Bacsinszky-Diatchenko match. 

Wimaier also said that the USTA has increased the number of credentialed personnel that had gone through the TIU’s Tennis Integrity Protection Program, an interactive online video question and answer system that is designed to quickly familiarize those who utilize it with tennis’s anti-corruption rules and the tactics typically employed by would-be corruptors.

“We have also increased the number of monitors and investigators searching for court-siders on site here,” Widmaier explained. Court-siders are individuals who sit at live matches and feed information back to bettors elsewhere, as tennis live scoring and video feeds is intentionally delayed.

“It’s been effective,” Widmaier said. “There have been a number of court-siders who have been escorted off the grounds.”

“We do believe that this one betting alert – though it should and will be investigated properly – we believes it’s an anomaly,” he said.

An injured Diatchenko lost 6-0, 6-2 at the French Open in May to No. 11 seed Lucie Safarova, having only played a challenger-level event in Tunisia earlier that month. She also trailed Serena Williams 6-0, 2-0 when she retired in the first round of the U.S. Open a year ago.

Players who have been out of action for up to six months can use what the WTA deems as a “special ranking,” which Diatchenko was granted, for up to eight tournaments in a one-year period. Diatchenko used her special ranking – of No. 86 from a year ago – at the U.S. Open.

The spike in irregular betting may have come from the number of games Diatchenko might win in the match versus the overall result, as Bacsinszky, the No. 15 seed, was highly favored.

The TIU’s next quarterly report is due out the first week of October. 


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