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Vegas books to keep closer eye on tennis bets

Probe of a Davydenko match prompts move. Veteran coach says he was asked about a player at Australian Open.

August 09, 2007|Lisa Dillman and Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writers

MONTREAL -- In light of the ATP Tour's probe of a Nikolay Davydenko match and doubles star Bob Bryan's revelation that players on the men's tour have received anonymous calls offering money in exchange for influencing matches, Las Vegas sports books will place tennis bets "under a thicker microscope," one prominent race and sports book director said.

"Although this is the first I've ever heard of anyone questioning tennis players, this is something we'll keep a closer eye on," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the Las Vegas Hilton's race and sports book.

In addition to watching betting patterns, Kornegay said Wednesday he expects every Las Vegas sports book -- a tight-knit community -- to closely monitor new tennis bettors and those wagering "extraordinary amounts or making repeat bets."

In a separate development Wednesday, another prominent tennis figure -- veteran coach and former tour player Larry Stefanki -- disclosed that he was approached during this year's Australian Open and pressed for inside information on another player by two men he didn't know.

This sort of thing has "been going on for a long time," Stefanki said.

Davydenko, meanwhile, played Wednesday for the first time since suspicious betting patterns emerged during his match last week against Martin Vassallo Arguello in Sopot, Poland, forcing the British-based online bookmaker Betfair to void all bets on the contest, an unprecedented move.

Davydenko, who retired from the Arguello match in the third set because of an injured left foot, had no apparent problem with mobility here on an obscure side court at the Montreal tournament. In a closely watched matchup against Jarkko Nieminen of Finland in the second round of the Rogers Cup, Davydenko won, 6-3, 7-6 (5).

The Russian star disclosed afterward, however, that he is playing with a stress fracture in that foot.

In his first public comments since the controversy exploded, the fourth-ranked Davydenko told a room full of reporters that no one from Betfair or the ATP has interviewed him nor has he retained an attorney.

He looked somber as he faced question after question about the betting scandal.

"Disappointment because I'm a top player," he said, after being asked what he felt after learning of the probe. People are "talking not only say in Russia, in my country, talking everywhere in the world. . . . Mentally, it's pretty tough."

Davydenko said he has not received a phone call offering money to throw a match.

"Nobody knows my numbers," he said.

That was a rare moment of levity.

At first, he asserted that he and his wife were the only ones who knew he was injured at the Poland tournament.

"I don't know how people can know about my injury. OK, maybe by practicing" or the trainers knowing, Davydenko said. "But I don't know who knows I was injured in this moment."

Clearly, information is currency in the Internet betting era.

Stefanki said in an interview here that he was pumped for information about another player during the Australian Open.

"Two English dudes. I started laughing at them and said, 'You're nuts,' " said Stefanki, who coaches Australian Open finalist Fernando Gonzalez of Chile. "These guys are gamblers for a living. . . . If it gets out, even one word, it spreads like wildfire. It makes the game dirty."

Betfair said about $7 million in bets were made on the match in Poland, with action going decidedly against Davydenko even after he won the first set.

"That one stinks," said Stefanki, who called for transparency by the ATP in this investigation.

Former No. 1 Martina Hingis, who is playing in Carson this week, has spoken about the issue with her fiance Radek Stepanek, who won last month's ATP tournament at UCLA and upset Gonzalez here in the second round of the Rogers Cup.

"I think it's a little bit more of a men's thing, I hear from Radek. I read about it, but I haven't heard anything on our side. I don't think it's, at this point, quite a factor," she said, adding that Radek "has a laugh about it every now and then."

The match in Poland never would have hit the radar in the U.S. had Betfair not acted. In fact, Kornegay, of the Hilton, said the Davydenko match stood no chance of being available for betting in Las Vegas.

"We stay away from sporting events without much meaning or significance," he said. "That one had no U.S. interest."

Until now.


Times staff writer Ken Fowler contributed to this report.

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