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U. S. Open Tennis (In)Security - Please Focus Light On the Proper Corners, People...By Nelson Lardner

According to multiple stories which emerged Thursday, the United States Tennis Association has engaged the security firm whose face is Rudy Guliani's favorite police commissioner.

Howard Safir, Rudy's police chief during the concluding years of the last decade, serves as Chairman/CEO of SafirRosetti, which has been retained to deploy an investigative team around the tourney's Flushing Meadows (NY) site for the U. S. Open, the final Grand Slam event on 2007's tennis calendar, taking place starting Monday and running through September 9.

USTA senior director of communications Chris Widmaier was quoted to the effect of "Actually, we don't (think there's a problem) . . . but we want to make sure we're as equipped and have as much knowledge of this issue as we can."

Mr. Widmaier, you want to "see if there's something more we can do?" Pardon my choice of words, but you bet there is.

The quick, public, cosmetic choice was made . . . understandable, under the circumstances, and certainly unlikely to do direct harm. But with all due respect, the U. S. Tennis Open is not some (relatively-)rinky-dink half-million-dollar tournament in Poland. The whole tennis world will be watching this event, along with millions of casual fans. I'm hardly naïve, and I find it hard to imagine any healthy player is going to look to dump a U. S. Open match, given the esteem premium based on round-by-round tourney advancement.

But (and here's where the smoke wafting about, following Nikolay Davydenko's performance in the Prokom Open in Poland, continues to linger), perhaps an individual player isn't peaking physically at the right time to take full advantage of his/her personal tournament draw. Worse, perhaps a participant is battling a nagging injury which makes it impossible for that player to perform at anything resembling peak efficiency.

Even if Howie Safir's cast and crew discovers such information during their rumblings and ruminations around and about the U. S. Open scene, comprised of beautiful people looking to see and be seen while besieged by absurd concession prices and enervating transportation difficulties . . . so? Then what?

"What" is the procedure patient observers of the scene have suggested (only forever!) as a course of action for those nervous about levels of sporting integrity. An individual (or better yet, a team) of sophisticated tennis followers/handicappers, wise in the ways of prices and percentages, should be brought into the fold and put into harness - assigned to closely eyeball the tennis betting action unfolding on the major exchanges (Betfair and TradeSports).

Of course, the folks hired would have very sophisticated ideas of just what a fair opening odds range would be appropriate for each individual match - and an equally-good idea of which side the wise guys might choose to tickle (if where was such a preference, at the projected "fair" opening price).

Am certain you're up to speed now ... as with the groundwork thus laid, observers will readily pick up on anything that resembles an odd price. If and when such a queer duck is duly observed, tennis' paid market observers could incorporate any new information and/or possible probability influences into their mental equations, and decide if the situation is far enough out of line to justify the taking of additional steps.

Funny thing is, Betfair already has forty such people in place in their international exchange . . . an operation of astonishing size and scope. As the Los Angeles Times recently reported, Betfair is capable of calling up the historical records of each of their some one million account holders, and "If a wagerer bets only on soccer - but suddenly turns to tennis - it shows." History has recorded that during the course of the Davydenko-Martin Vassallo Arguello match which caused such a ruckus, the outsized volume combined with the astonishingly-distended odds which resulted provoked the first across-the-board bet-voiding on a match in Betfair history.

It was reported Thursday that the Association of Tennis Professionals had requested Davydenko and Arguello's phone and e-mail records, while folks with the ATP also plan to discuss the matter with both parties while all are enjoying New York's sights and sounds.

Hey, if SafirRosetti provides some measurable added sense of mental security to professional tennis' ruling bodies, so be it. But hanging up signs reading "The participation in or aiding and abetting, directly or indirectly, of any form of gambling or betting involving tennis is strictly prohibited. The USTA has a zero-tolerance policy on gambling or betting involving tennis, and any violation of such policy will result in immediate disciplinary action." is largely showtime, with little tooth-power behind it. Betfair freely acknowledges it has more than 25 in-force agreements with various sporting bodies, essentially averring that Betfair is dedicated to looking out for any distinctive market hints of "funny stuff" which may be going on.

If you don't fancy our suggestion to hire your own market-trackers (they won't come cheap, as the skillset is parallel to that of many successful bettors), Mr. Widmaier, you'd be well-advised in your quest for top-level tennis kept free of unwelcome gaming influences to link up with folks who are as interested as you surely are in not getting caught on the wrong side of some fix . . . the betting exchanges. Tennis wagering is not going to disappear overnight . . . it's a popular pastime worldwide, and many are quite wrapped up in it. Rather trying to repeal human nature (a mug's game, from any perspective), do something concrete and take some excellent historical advice: FOLLOW THE MONEY.

Such a plan of action will surely do you more good than having agents deployed around Flushing Meadows, futilely listening for furtive whispers that anyone devious enough to entertain the idea of tossing a match over the net is certainly not going to voice in public anywhere near the scene of any sports-bribery crime.

Nelson Lardner

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