Apparently, tennis has increased in popularity in certain circles.
Two Belgian players have come out of the woodwork to admit that they had been offered money to affect the outcome of their matches, and other services. Well, not out of the woodwork. There's a big investigation going on after some betting irregularities were discovered in a Nikolay Davydenko match this summer. Davydenko, so far, has not yet had to sit down and explain to officials how betting against him spiked after he won the opening set. He ultimately retired from the match with an injury.
Gilles Elseneer (claim to fame: world ranking of 99 in July 2004, and working his way back now at 798 in the world) said that he was offered $114,000 to let his first-round opponent roll over him at Wimbledon in 2005.
"They said I should take my time and give them my reply the next day, but I only needed a couple of minutes to realize it was impossible for me to contemplate," Elseneer said. Good for him, because he made only about $30,000 by winning the match. Considering that this is a guy who's made only $473,978 in his ten years on tour, Elseneer ought to be commended. As a point of reference, Roger Federer has made about $36 million in nine years.
Dick Norman says he was offered about $15,000 to offer inside information on player injuries, and he turned it down. Now that's got to make a guy feel good about himself. These guys had decided Norman wasn't even good enough to bet on, but good enough to be a spy. And for only $15,000? You know you have to bring a lot of cash to people who get paid to play a game for a living, and usually pretty handsomely.
Of course, they brought the hard, cold cash for world No. 3 Novak Djokovic, back when he was just Novak Djokovic. "They" offered $255,000 to lose at a small tournament in Russia.
How long will it take to discover who "they" are, by the way? Didn't anyone get a description, or a business card? Oh, right, probably not a lot of business cards. And once "they" get tracked down, what then? "Most Wanted Gamblers" posters in locker rooms? (Now, offering money to turn these guys in, there's an idea.) The fact is that there is a darker side to tennis, and players, especially the journeymen who are barely making enough to get by, will be exposed to it. The question is, how do you make it worth their while to say no? ATP chairman and president Etienne de Villiers thinks a $100,000 fine with the possibility of a lifetime ban is enough. Not. "They" obviously have enough money to cover inconveniences like getting caught. One more zero on that penalty, Mr. de Villiers, and we might be talking. Money talks. Both ways. Give a tennis player a choice between playing it straight, and working as a Wal-Mart greeter for the rest of his life, and that might clean things up a bit.
This all goes to show that when it comes to sniffing out opportunity, tennis seems to be the answer for a lot of people. And it's not just for those from third-world nations hoping the sport will offer them opportunities beyond their wildest dreams. The folks languishing outside your friendly OTB joint had it figured out a while ago. Why bet on baseball, or football, or any team sport, when you can increase your odds by betting on an individual sport?
(If you're low enough to bet on doubles, heaven help you. You have what we like to call a gambling problem.)