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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

A shadow of its own

As tennis joins the sports under a cloud of match-fixing and corruption

Updated: January 20, 2016 12:00:27 am

It was meant to be the final chapter penned on the golden age of tennis — Nadal would rise like a phoenix from a slump, Federer would burn dazzlingly like the final flicker of the candle, Djokovic would continue hoarding the silverware in tennis’s most talented era and Murray would never let the other breathe easy. Instead, the year’s first major headlines are about match-fixing and corruption, and about a shadow steadily lengthening on yet another sport, arguably the greatest in individual gladiatorial contests. After FIFA’s bribery scandals and the doping headache that confronts Seb Coe in athletics, after the annihilation of cycling’s greatest tour event and a decade-long match-fixing crisis and scepticism in cricket, it’s almost as if the last bastion of credibility has now shattered after secret files leaked to BBC and BuzzFeed News revealed evidence of suspected match-fixing at the topmost level of world tennis — including at Wimbledon.

What’s more dispiriting, however, is the report’s bold print that all of those players, which includes Grand Slam champions, were allowed to continue, with no action taken. In cold numbers, the TIU has won 18 convictions, including six life bans, since it came up in 2008. But the knowledge that eight of those players tracked by the TIU are due to play in the Australian Open that began on Monday, points to the massive failure of tennis’ top authorities to catch the big fish, and some might even call this a “cover-up”. That it would have been legally impossible to retrospectively punish the offenders in 2007 and that authorities “have to find evidence as opposed to information, suspicion, or hearsay” means even a dedicated integrity unit has lacked the teeth to take necessary action, even as betting syndicates in Russia, northern Italy and Sicily came under the scanner.

It ought to have been a year to sit back and admire that famous backhand, and those sliding retrievals and that forehand with a racquet wielded like a mace. But it will unfold as a season when the ebbs and flows of a five-setter will be viewed with cynicism.

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