MELBOURNE • A major sports gambling website on Sunday suspended betting for a mixed doubles match at the Australian Open, raising suspicions of match-fixing at one of the world's most prestigious tennis tournaments.
Ahead of a match pitting Lara Arruabarrena and David Marrero against Andrea Hlavackova and Lukasz Kubot, large amounts of money poured in on what would normally be an obscure contest, said Marco Blume, head of sportsbook at the website, Pinnacle Sports, one of the largest and most influential betting websites in the world.
Nearly all of the money, Blume said, came down for Hlavackova and Kubot, which he said was an indication that the match might be fixed. The pair won 6-0, 6-3 with the first set lasting only 20 minutes.
Arruabarrena, the 33rd-ranked doubles player, and Marrero, ranked 32nd among men, rejected any possibility of fixing in an interview after the match.
Marrero, who like Arruabarrena is from Spain, cited a knee injury in explaining their performance.
Pole Kubot and his Czech partner Hlavackova confirmed yesterday that they had met Tennis Integrity Unit officials.
Both said they had never been involved in a match where they thought anything was wrong.
"I didn't see and I didn't look at anything after the match," Kubot said.
The suspicious gambling activity comes with the sport already under intense international scrutiny over possible match-fixing.
Last week, at the start of the Australian Open, tennis officials were left scrambling when the BBC and BuzzFeed reported that 16 players were repeatedly flagged over suspicions that they had thrown matches but that officials did not discipline them.
The accusations in the report centred primarily on matches from several years ago. Tennis officials have emphasised that unusual betting patterns alone are not sufficient evidence of match-fixing. It is possible, they have said, that someone close to the players could pass inside information - like knowledge of an injury - to gamblers, who would then wager accordingly.
About 13 hours before this particular first-round mixed-doubles match was set to begin, Pinnacle's traders suspended betting on it, Blume said. He then notified the police in Victoria, the Australian state where the tournament takes place, of possible irregularities.
"The law enforcement agencies are watching this area very closely," said Mr John Eren, the Minister of Sport for Victoria.
The police said they worked with Australian tennis officials throughout the tournament but would not confirm whether they had been alerted to the irregularities or were investigating this particular match.
Stefano Berlincioni, a sports gambling expert from Italy who writes for the website Last Word on Sports, highlighted a Marrero match last year that he believed was suspicious. He said on Sunday that his analysis of the wagering activity around the mixed doubles match indicated the match might have been fixed.
Blume, of Pinnacle Sports, said the site opened betting on the match on Thursday. Hlavackova and Kubot were listed as the favourites to win, but by Saturday morning, Blume said, so much money was pouring in on them that Pinnacle drastically altered its odds to attract betting on Arruabarrena and Marrero.
Pinnacle also reduced the maximum amount for a single bet but heavy bets kept coming in on Hlavackova and Kubot. Just nine minutes after reducing that, he said, traders on the Pinnacle floor suspended betting on the match.
In a Sydney court yesterday, a former Australian professional player pleaded guilty to match-fixing in a minor 2013 tournament.
Prosecutor Kate Young told the court that in September 2013, when playing at the Toowoomba Futures Tournament, former world No. 187 Nick Lindahl offered to intentionally lose a match to a lower-ranked player and informed an associate so that he could wager against him.
A transcript of telephone calls intercepted by police after the match and read in court appeared to show Lindahl coaching an associate on how to hide evidence from investigators and admitting to doing the same himself.
"Just get rid of it ... just get rid of everything," Lindahl said in the transcript, which was read by Young.
Lindahl, who was arrested a year ago, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment on the charge to which he pleaded guilty. He will be sentenced on April 15.
NEW YORK TIMES, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE