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All bets may be off in tennis probe

August 06, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- Novak Djokovic could have used cautious language. Or he could have evaded the question when asked whether men's tennis had a problem as an investigation by ATP officials into suspicious betting patterns involving a Nikolay Davydenko match unfolds.

He did none of those things.

"Unfortunately, yes," Djokovic said Sunday at the Rogers Cup. "Usually, it's more in the other sports like football, basketball. Now there is more and more cases in tennis, which is, of course, a bad thing for the sport and all the tennis players. Those kinds of things are putting away all the sponsors and all the important people from our sport."

Djokovic is one of the fast-rising stars on the circuit, a 20-year-old Serb who is perhaps the biggest threat to the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal stranglehold on tour dominance. He beat Nadal on his way to winning at Key Biscayne, Fla., in April and backed up that promise when he reached the semifinals at the French Open and Wimbledon.

The top-ranked Federer was more circumspect Sunday and first said he didn't know anything about the matter.

"To me, it seems like he's not the guy who would do something like this," Federer said of Davydenko, a 26-year-old Russian ranked fourth in the world. "Of course, it's disappointing to talk about this kind of stuff in tennis. I'm sure many fans bet on stuff and they hear inside scoop from some angle.

"It must happen eventually that some stuff gets out of the locker room. I agree that we have more problems in that respect because it's in the players' hands. But I think we'd had very little problem through the years."

Said Djokovic: "Everybody has different opinions, you can ask me, and I'm going to say one thing. You can ask the other player, he can say the other thing. You can guess, but nobody can 100% know. It happens -- there are many cases as well about faking an injury."

The seriousness of the Davydenko investigation was a backdrop to this Masters Series tournament, which started Sunday with a handful of matches. On Friday, the British-based Internet company Betfair took the unprecedented step of voiding all bets on a second-round match between Davydenko, the top-seeded defending champion, and Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina at an ATP tournament in Sopot, Poland, because of irregular betting patterns.

The ATP Tour began an investigation, and Executive Chairman Etienne de Villiers said in a statement that the tour would use "all means available to us -- including independent, external resources -- via our anti-corruption rules to conduct a complete . . . investigation."

Large sums of money were bet on a seemingly mundane match, and Betfair moved when wagers against Davydenko increased as he won the first set. Davydenko retired in the third set because of a foot injury.

The journeyman Vassallo Arguello is not in the Montreal draw. But the fourth-seeded Davydenko, who has a first-round bye, appeared at the tournament Sunday and declined to comment when approached by a reporter from the news agency Agence France-Presse. Earlier, his agent was quoted by the Associated Press and BBC Five Live as saying neither Davydenko nor "anybody out of our entourage" was involved in any connection to the betting.

This is the second time in a little more than a year that Betfair has raised questions about a men's match, having reported odd wagering patterns when Richard Bloomfield of Britain played Carlos Berlocq of Argentina at Wimbledon in 2006.

Several players at one time admitted links to Alimzhan Tokhtakhunov, who in 2002 was indicted on federal charges that he plotted to fix the ice dancing and pairs figure skating competition at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Tokhtakhunov was pictured with Russian tennis pros Marat Safin, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Andrei Medvedev in a photo that appeared in The Times in August 2002 and was subsequently pulled from Medvedev's website.

Separately, the ATP has made efforts to educate its players. During the Key Biscayne tournament this year, Michael Franzese spoke to a players' meeting, according to the Sunday Times of London. The former mobster, known as a compelling speaker, is making a new career of sorts detailing the impact of organized crime on gambling in his addresses to groups from the major sports leagues and the NCAA, among others.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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