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USTA isn't going to take the chance

September 07, 2007|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Heightened scrutiny regarding the issue of gambling and outside influence has caused the U.S. Tennis Assn. to treat even the most trivial-appearing incidents with the utmost seriousness at the U.S. Open.

That was on display Thursday when the organization investigated a matter during a third-round junior boys' singles match between Thomas Fabbiano of Italy and Andrew Thomas of Cyprus on Court 9. Fabbiano won, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

USTA senior public relations director Chris Widmaier said the incident started when two middle-aged men, two "knuckleheads," started harassing a linesman during the match and offered him $10 to change a call. The chair umpire was notified of the action and he summoned a supervisor, who then called the USTA's command center at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

"They said, 'We're rooting for Thomas,' " Widmaier said. "It was unclear which Thomas they were rooting for. There was no exchange of money. No call was overturned.

"The people were talked to and basically asked to move on. They didn't seem to be linked to either camp. They seemed like knuckleheads. Once they had a discussion with a USTA official they moved on and left the court area."

Gambling has come into sharper focus at this year's Open because of the Nikolay Davydenko controversy. British Internet betting company Betfair voided $7 million in wagers because of suspicious betting patterns that unfolded during a match Aug. 2 between Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello in Sopot, Poland.

Davydenko, who will play Roger Federer in Saturday's semifinals, has not been interviewed by the ATP or its outside investigators, two former Scotland Yard investigators.

Open officials quickly reacted to the gambling scandal and hired a security consulting firm run by former New York City Police Commissioner Howard Safir to be on hand during the tournament, and it is believed that the firm was involved in the investigation and monitoring of the subsequent movements of the two men involved in Thursday's junior incident.

"The procedures we had in place worked the way they were supposed to work. They got out there quickly and controlled the situation," Widmaier said of USTA officials.

". . . We take this stuff very seriously. Once we heard about it, we acted quickly and contained the situation."

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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