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Bettors target women's tennis

January 15, 2008|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Several players on the women's tennis tour have been approached to fix matches or provide inside information sought by gamblers, the head of the tour said Monday, echoing disclosures of similar overtures made to male players.

"Less than 10" women have been approached, said Larry Scott, WTA Tour chairman and chief executive. However, he acknowledged that the full extent of the problem might not be known.

"I'm not sure I know all the ways players have been approached. I also wouldn't suggest that's the extent of it. I believe there are people who have been approached who have not come forward," Scott said as the Australian Open got underway here.

"But we learned enough, let me put it this way, the first half of 2007 to become much more concerned and spring into a new level of action."

Scott says he believes the sport will end up spending as much on this issue as it does in anti-doping efforts. Two former British police officers, Jeffrey Rees and Ben Gunn, are here conducting interviews and coordinating the effort behind the newly formed Tennis Integrity Unit.

The revelations grew out of an obscure tournament in Poland in August. Nikolay Davydenko of Russia retired early in the third set of a match against Martin Vassallo Arguello of Argentina, citing injury. That prompted the British Internet bookmaker Betfair to void all wagers after suspicious betting patterns surfaced.

Davydenko remains under investigation by the Assn. of Tennis Professionals.

The issue came into sharper focus later last summer when doubles star Bob Bryan told The Times in Montreal that tour players received anonymous phone calls, asking them to manipulate the outcome of matches.

Following that, there was a steady procession of players coming forward to say they had been offered money to fix matches.

Even a coach, Larry Stefanki, said he was pushed for inside information about another competitor at the 2007 Australian Open.

Arguello, who lost here Monday in the first round, harshly criticized the tour's new integrity policies.

He said he resented the fact he could be put in the position of being forced to inform on his colleagues, calling it "political terrorism."

"Now, there's like a new rule in that one has to be constantly policing, pushing away everyone that gets near you asking you something suspicious, or just how you're doing, or if they say: 'Martin, how are you? Will you win today?' " he said in Spanish at a post-match news conference.

"For this reason, you have to keep your distance because some people are just trying to get information from you.

"There's a ton of things that aren't clear or have little meaning. If you know there's a player who has been talking to someone about something odd, you have let people know. It's crazy."

As for the WTA, Scott does not think his tour has "an integrity problem."

But he took it upon himself to warn players Saturday at their pre-tournament meeting of "death-penalty" -- career-ending -- sanctions if they or those around them were implicated.

"I don't think we can stop gambling," he said. "Unfortunately, that's life. . . . I do think there is a severe risk because the amount of gambling happening and the number of approaches. That's what we're addressing before it becomes a problem."

--

Times staff writer Jim Barrero, in Los Angeles, contributed to this report.

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

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