This afternoon at the ATP Meerbusch Challenger in Germany, all eyes were definitely not on a first-round match between Dutchmen Boy Westerhof and Antal Van Der Duim. Both are ranked outside the top 250, neither has ever cracked the top 200, and both are in their late twenties.
It appears that the two players assumed no one would be watching. Before the match, the markets on Betfair were very suspicious:
For those of you not accustomed to parsing betting markets, here’s a summary of what the market thought was going to happen:
- Van Der Duim’s chances of winning the match were between 75% and 80%.
- Van Der Duim’s odds of winning the first set were roughly 35%.
- There was a better than 50/50 chance that Van Der Duim would win the match in three sets. The odds of any other specific outcome (e.g. Westerhof wins in three) were minuscule in comparison.
The match odds in themselves might have raised a few eyebrows, but could be written off as owing to Westerhof’s recent run of poor play, or perhaps some information gathered on site about a nagging injury. When combined with the other markets, however, it’s clear that something very fishy was going on.
The match went precisely according to script. After Westerhof took the first set, 6-4, the market got more and more confident about Van Der Duim winning the second set:
Van Der Duim remained the favorite even after going down an early break in the second set. Shortly thereafter, with no cameras watching, Westerhof seems to have decided not to waste any more time:
In the end, Van Der Duim beat Westerhof, 4-6 6-3 6-3. No one following the betting markets was at all surprised.
Nor should we be shocked that this sort of thing happens. With the middling prize money on offer at Challenger events–Westerhof will get about $500, and if Van Der Duim loses in the next round, he’ll be awarded about $800–there’s more money to be made by losing matches than winning them.
While we don’t know how often matches are fixed, something was very wrong about this one. Because the markets so blatantly telegraphed the fix, it poses an important question to the sport’s governing bodies. If they don’t take this opportunity to act, it will send a very clear message to Challenger-level players that match-fixing is acceptable practice.
(Thanks to the three Twitter users quoted above, who brought this match to my attention.)