The Challenger Tour is the backdoor of the ATP World Tour. It becomes the way for rising stars to live up to their stardom and become the next tennis phenomena. Rich in experience (and ATP ranking points), money is barely enough to pay the bills – and most of the time, it isn’t!
But not everyone that plays the Challenger Tour makes it, and when reality hits, it can be nasty. Among those who cope with this reality, a few become stale. Like the rotten fruit that ruins the basket, a few get involved in poor judgement decisions. Although this is not very common but still, it happens.
Match fixing is a ghost that haunts the minor tournaments of the ATP Tour as well as the Challenger circuit. This practice is very hard to prove, and seldom put into action by players. Every now and then, suspicion arises in a match or two. These episodes become tiny stains that compromise the white sport. All in all, investigations usually take years and players are rarely caught.
The Dallas Challenger Main Draw, a USD 100K tournament and of 100 ATP ranking points, was put in the spotlight this Monday. The first-round match between Argentina’s Agustín Velotti (303) and Ukraine’s Denys Molchanov (174) had an unusual amount of money involved in bets (around € 900K), raising suspicious of match fixing in the social media. Velotti fought through a tough three setter (5-7, 6-2, 6-3) to reach the second round. Interviewed regarding the suspicions involved in his match, the 2010 Roland Garros junior champion expressed his views on the matter:
Here it is: Denys Molchanov should be in the running for an Oscar after this performance. pic.twitter.com/Wia1kWdXUJ
— The Tennis Nerds (@TheTennisNerds) February 2, 2015
Raúl de Kemmeter: Before the start of your match, you didn’t appear as favourite in betting sites. After losing the first set, you went from 2.25 to 1.20, which is pretty unusual. There was a Vine of your rival hitting an awkward backhand in the sixth game of the third set and falling to the floor. Did you think something odd was going on?
Agustín Velotti: To be honest, I’m shell shocked! I have no idea how betting works. I worked my ass off during the match. I am finding out about this right now. No, I didn’t realize something odd was going on. He acted like something was bothering him. Like his shoe or something… I thought he twisted his ankle at that time. I swear on my life and family I have absolutely nothing to do if something fishy was going on… I never even imagined something like this could happen. I would never be a part of anything like this. I give my best and devote myself to training and playing tennis. The sacrifice of my family and people are priceless to me. I win with dignity and lose with dignity. I do not care about what my rival does. I have nothing to do with him. I played my match at my best effort. Even though I didn’t play well, I gave my best.
RdK: Did you notice anything suspicious about your rival? Did anybody talk to him?
AV: Nothing. I didn’t think anything odd was going on. In fact, I was so involved in my match that I got mad at myself for every point I missed, and fistpumped my winners. I didn’t feel anything strange was going on… but it could be. Either I am being too innocent or I don’t realize about these things when they happen. As I said, I would never get involved in something like this myself. My family and myself sacrifice way too much so I can play tennis. It would be disrespectful to myself, my family, and those who back up my career.
RdK: In match fixing, it is usually the loser who is involved as he is the favorite to the bookies. We could see you did your best and tried to win your match.
AV: That was the case. In fact… I felt really nervous and didn’t like the way I played. This was my first match of the season, I felt the pressure and really wanted to win.
RdK: You managed to come through a tough first round. How are you feeling on court?
AV: I’m feeling well. This was my first tournament of the year. The pressure is big and I’m hungry for success. It is very tough to play well under these conditions, but I am happy I won today. I have the chance to play a second round and do better next time.
RdK: What are your goals for the season?
AV: I want to improve on my weaknesses. That’s my first target. I want to have a season injury free so I can compete to the fullest. My third goal is to end the year in the Top 100.