Tennis attempts to smash gambling

The Baltimore Sun

Hall of Fame player Pam Shriver did not mince words last night when asked about the four major organizations in professional tennis uniting to keep the sport free from gambling influences.

"They have to do this," Shriver said. "In the late 1970s and 1980s, everyone banned together to keep drugs out of the game. The possibility of gambling influence is even worse.

"It's not like drugs, where people say they didn't know they were taking something illegal. How do you accidentally let someone buy your result? There is absolutely no excuse. You get caught, you should be suspended for life."

The International Tennis Federation announced yesterday it is working with the ATP Tour, the WTA Tour and the Grand Slam Committee to produce rules to fight match-fixing and illegal gambling.

In August, the ATP began investigating gambling on a match between fourth-ranked Nikolay Davydenko and No. 87 Martin Vassallo Arguello in Poland because of unusual betting patterns.

In the match, Davydenko withdrew in the third set with a foot injury.

The suspicion about the match started after an online betting site voided bets on the match.

"We have to keep the integrity of the matches," ITF spokesman Bill Babcock told the Associated Press. "I think we have that, but we have this looming cloud now that we have to dissipate."

Fifth-ranked Andy Roddick was in town last night with his brother, John, up-and-coming singles player John Isner and the No. 1 doubles team of Mike and Bob Bryan for Shriver's 22nd annual PNC Tennis Classic. Roddick was as appalled as Shriver by the idea that matches could possibly have been fixed.

"At the end of the day, it's up to every individual to play the right way: with integrity," Roddick said. "If you catch someone, kick 'em out for good."

Roddick said he hadn't heard anything in the ATP locker rooms about matches being fixed until the Davydenko incident. And he said he has never been approached about fixing one of his matches.

Isner, who is playing his first pro season, said he has been taken by surprise by the gambling issue.

"But if the integrity of the game is being ruined, maybe a lifetime ban is necessary," he said.

Mike Bryan voiced concern about the game but is still hopeful the investigation won't find any wrongdoing.

"We don't know if it happened," he said. "I was a little shocked when I heard. I know Davydenko is a great player in the top five. And it kind of sparks our interest when you see a great player like that lose to a lower-ranked player."

Bryan said he believes the governing bodies are wise to put a system in place.

"I think there has to be a major punishment for someone who would do this," he said. "I don't know if in this case it's a life ban, because it has never come up before. There wasn't a warning structure in place. But you've got to make sure it would never happen again."

Shriver pointed out the vulnerability of the sport.

"It would be harder to change the outcome of a football game or another team sport with so many players involved," she said. "But a tennis match? You could change it like this [snapping her fingers]. Betting is a really dangerous influence."

Shriver said she never heard anyone talk about match-fixing while she was a player, but she said that later in her career when she went to Wimbledon and the Australian Open, where betting facilities are a short walk from the tournaments, she often wondered how it was policed.

"If an insider knows about an injury, how do you police that?" she said. "I'm not sure they even thought about that. But you know when a lot of money is involved, people will do the wrong things.

"In the states, betting used to be in so few places, it never came to mind. But now gambling is almost everywhere here, too, and it's online. I don't know how you police it. But I think individual sports have to look long and hard to ensure the integrity of the game because it's too easy to change the outcome.

"There's just absolutely no excuse. If you're caught, you're done. The penalty has to be something very powerful to use as a deterrent."

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