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Courting controversy

EastbourneTennis was made very aware of the problems of match fixing when our reporters were mistaken for Russian fraudsters!

EastbourneTennis was embroiled in a suspected betting scam back in 2009, when I was personally followed by police throughout the week-long Wimbledon warm-up tournament.

And as a seasoned sports journalist I have been aware of match-fixing in tennis since the late 1980s, having heard top tier players make arrangements prior to taking to the court to commence battle.

The first time that I witnessed an agreement on the professional circuit was at the Monte Carlo Open, when security mistakenly insisted that I was diverted into the area reserved for competitors.

During my brief visit to the players area I clearly heard two well-known stars agree before their contest how it would pan out.

One player suggested to his opponent: “I’ll take the first set, you have the second and then we’ll play for real in the third?”

There was no raising of eyebrows nor query about such an audacious suggestion, which was cheating the paying public of a true Centre Court battle.

The other player simply smiled and say “Okay” before they started talking about the other matches and how they knew who would win which contest.

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From Monte Carlo to Devonshire Park, match-fixing problems encountered first-hand by EastbourneTennis

Shortly after eavesdropping on this controversial conversation I left the players area and made my way back through the principality, walking alongside some of the leading players on the ATP Tour as well as the placid fans.

Although the tournament back then permitted the top tier stars, who all had tax-free residence in Monaco, to just meander with tennis fans without the need for security I never heard any other match-fixing during four years of attending the Monte Carlo Open tournament for the entire week.

And it was not until 2009 that I personally encountered anything untoward on the tennis arena, when I was mistakenly deemed to be part of a Russian gang involved in a betting scam.

The local newspaper in Eastbourne exaggerated the fact that police kept approaching me asking about using laptops and mobile phones on Centre Court during matches, by claiming that a colleague at Eastbournetennis.com and I were marched out of Devonshire Park when we left early and were briefly followed by police.

Despite being monitored by police during the tournament in 2009, when various colleagues and I would be writing up articles and sending out text alerts during matches on Centre Court and #1 Court, it was just before the final started when a number of policemen suddenly swooped on me and a colleague.

One of the policemen explained in no uncertain terms that they had been following me all week and wanted me to explain why I was using laptops and mobile phones during matches.

I was asked for identity, but the police refused to believe that my driving licence was genuine and was insistent that my name was also fake as I was Russian.

Admittedly I do have some Moscow heritage and was tanned following two months working on the Turkish Riveria, while one of my colleagues was also bronzed as he lived in Abu Dhabi but was briefly over to enjoy the grass court tournaments in England. So we did look a bit like wealthy Russians.

The players came out to applause on Centre Court, and the police swiftly disappeared but threatened to return later with more of their force and insisted that they wanted some “real ID” from me.

They duly returned en masse, still didn’t believe my driving licence was bona fide and sat with me and a colleague during some of the Men’s Singles final to witness first hand what we were typing into the three laptops and four mobile phones.

Fans near me and a colleague saw police surrounding us so obviously wondered what was going on. The focus on us and the police more than the tennis final in this particular area of Centre Court.

The police presence left us alone but two at a time returned to monitor us, and after the final was concluded with the articles written up to appear online with text alerts sent out to around 1,000 subscribers then I duly packed up my equipment and exited Eastbourne’s Devonshire Park.

Since this strange brush with the law there has been no problem whatsoever, and now the ball is firmly in the court with tennis players moreso than those who are suspected of targeting top stars for Italian and Russian betting syndicates.

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