As this article is written, the Lleyton Hewitt post-match press conference is underway, which is appropriate given the positive sentiment that caps the first four days of publicity for the Australian Open 2016 tournament.
Tennis Australia Board Resignations
Unfortunately, the Australian Open 2016 has not had the best of starts to the tennis season. The first news to distract the media transpired on the Friday when news broke that three of the directors were resigning. Whatever the true reason, the timing could not be worse given Friday news should have been focused exclusively on the release of the official draw. Instead, news of Tennis Australia’s board resignations emerged. In isolation, that news could have died a natural and quick death, but the next events from the first day of the tournament only exacerbated the situation.
Match Fixing Suspicions
The tennis world is currently embroiled in a major issue concerning match fixing. Ongoing investigations by a body commissioned to root out the corrupt practice – the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) – suggest some eight players who are currently competing in the Australian Open may be linked to this scandal. Indeed, accusations have come about in more recent days that World #1 Novak Djokovic himself has been accused of fixing a match all the way back in 2003. His defence, during the lines of questions being put to him during a post match interview was quite solid and definitive. Any match loss by a top-seeded player can be quite rightly distorted and speculated on. Of course it is natural and expected for Novak to defend the sport, and we would like to think that he has quite the noble character and integrity that deserves only our respect and praise. Whilst the top-seeded players have noble and admirable sportsman and have built their reputations on this foundation over the years, it makes the believability of these emerging issues all the more sensational. All these top ranking players make a vast proportion of their wealth on sponsorships and activities outside of the main game play of tennis. My view is that the “benefit” of fixing a match surely would not outweigh the true benefits at stake of getting caught.
Of course, this news of match fixing is not a complete revelation since the anonymity of suspected players continues intact for now. Of the original set of 16 players that were submitted to the TIU, none were discipled in the form of removal from professional competition. Further, only half of these players are competing in Australian Open 2016. I would want to know where the other half of the players are now? Have they all retired and are thus no longer under review? Based on the original report released by the BBC, the focus is not so much on the Australian Open grand slam, but instead on three matches from Wimbledon.
The final analysis section of the BBC report suggests that the TIU has been effective, but that, as per the description from the ATP President, the level of match-fixing was very low. When you take certain facts into consideration – such as the one suggesting that players from the 2003 season were suspect and combine it with the fact that eight current players were competing at the current 2016 Australian Open slam, the list of potential players is very small. Of course, in order to make any conclusions like this one, assumes that the two facts are related, that whoever was involved in match fixing back in 2003 were the same players active now. It is equally if not more likely that the two facts are independent. In this way, I would like to think that the following players who were active over the entire 13 year period are innocent:
- Roger Federer, 2003 Wimbledon champion, seeded 4th and Wimbledon was his first trophy
- David Ferrer, 2003 was his debut year for all four grand slams having turned pro in 2002
- Lleyton Hewitt, 2003 was the end of his reign as #1 seed; being the Wimbledon 2002 champion
- Rafael Nadal, 2003 marked his first finals appearance
- Tomas Berdych, 2002 marked his entry into the professional tournament and the 2003 US Open was his first grand slam appearance
- Fernando Verdasco, having turned pro in 2001, he had two noticeable appearances at the US Open and Wimbledon
There may be more that I have not listed, but these are the obvious players who deserve our benefit of the doubt. The troubling fact that amongst the suspected match-fixing players is a “winner of a grand slam title” is also limited to a small number of select players since only seven men have won a grand slam title in the last decade:
- Roger Federer (17)
- Novak Djokovic (13)
- Rafael Nadal (14)
- Andy Murray (2)
- Stan Wawrinka (2)
- Juan Martin del Potro (1)
- Marin Cilic (1)
The sheer dominance and class of Federer, Djokovic and Nadal I would hope makes them least likely to be suspect, but then again you can never be too sure. Their dominance also lends itself to the other extreme thought that perhaps these guys are so dominant in the sport that they agree to match-fixing just for fun… Of course, it is my hope that this is as far from the truth as possible.
For a large part of the news, the attention tends to remain on the men’s tournament and nothing is mentioned about the women’s side of the sport. I suspect, other than the Williams sisters, the draw tends to remain quite fluid and open and even the likes of Maria Sharapova or Caroline Wozniacki have to battle out the grand slams, let alone contemplate match fixing.
This year, Tennis Australia have commenced a new sponsorship deal with the
On the second day of play, one spectator suffered a medical emergency during a first round match where Bernard Tomic was playing Denis Istomin in the Hisense Arena. It was reassuring to see spectators help the woman by shouting out for an EpiPen, which suggested a life-threatening allergic reaction was unfolding. Fortunately one spectator in the upper seating area had one and through the chain of helping hands, the EpiPen found its way to the woman in distress; a beautiful show of support and care. Paramedics arrived within minutes of this and she was assisted into a wheelchair before being escorted from Hisense Arena and received a huge round of applause from the crowd. Tomic than resumed play early in the fourth set to close out his first win of the tournament. 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-4.
Two days later, on Thursday 21 January about 1 pm, a traffic accident took place at the doorstep to Melbourne Park, Olympic Boulevard aka Swan St. Somehow, through what can only be considered careless driving, a vehicle failed to stop and collided with a stationary taxi. Two passengers were transported to hospital after the stationary taxi was sent forward into the crossing pedestrians; the unfortunate victims of this incident. The resulting road closure would have caused some traffic access problems.
That same Thursday also saw a medical incident ensue, this time within the Rod Laver Arena and during a women’s singles match. Game play was disrupted by 20 minutes whilst the woman was treated and the incident also affected the players on court, who were left for a period wondering what had transpired. A woman apparently collapsed and her tumble down the upper seating area steps caused a loud noise which rattled the nerves of the women players who could only hear the commotion but not see what had happened. Fortunately, the chair umpire had full visibility and helped to get immediate medical attention.
These dramas, whilst not within the control of Tennis Australia/Australian Open organisers, demonstrate the general ability for the event to respond quickly and appropriately to these minor emergencies. That no lives were lost is a relief, but the close sequential occurrences would undoubtedly create news away from the traditional sports results. Fortunately, these stories allow for a positive outcome where we can take confidence in the event organisers that during these times of medical incidents, the professionals are close at hand, and procedures exist to handle the various situations.
Already, there had been talk prior to the launch of the tournament that new security procedures were being introduced in response to the heightened terror alert levels present in the Australian community. Whilst it is fortunate that, so far, the Australian Open has been free of these kinds of incidents it is a little unusual that so many medical incidents transpire within the short time period… Hopefully, over this Australia Day long weekend, the media dramas of this past week will settle down as the tournament progresses onto the business end of tennis play, and we can all enjoy and remember Australian Open 2016 as the happy slam it always has been.