Few tennis fans had heard of David Savic before he was banned for life on corruption charges at a hearing in London last September.
Given that he operated mainly on the Futures tour and had a career high of 393, it’s not surprising. He was barely a household name in his own house.
Initial details were sketchy. Savic received a life ban and a $100,000 fine for “contriving or attempting to contrive the outcome of an event”. He claimed he’d been set up by a “current top player” who was reported to be a friend from his junior days.
Last month The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the Serb’s life ban but quashed the fine. With the release of the case file, some fascinating details have emerged.
I will therefore afford him the same level of anonymity and refer to him only as The Cypriot Number One (who, just to be clear from the offset, is not implicated in any wrongdoing whatsoever).
The timeline of the main events are as follows:
April 2009: Savic, who was in the qualifying draw at the Serbian Open, and The Cypriot Number One meet in Belgrade and swap phone numbers.
October 2010: In a Beijing hotel room, The Cypriot Number One receives a call on his cell phone from the number Savic had given him. He doesn’t answer but later takes a call on his hotel phone from someone he believes to be Savic.
They continue their conversation on Skype, all conversations taking place in English.
Savic then offers The Cypriot Number One $30,000 to drop the first set of his first round match and alleges that he will progress to the next round anyway as his opponent (let’s call him The Ukrainian Number One, or Aleksandr Dolgopolov for short) will agree to lose the next two sets.
The Cypriot Number One turns the offer down and reports it to the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU) (as he is required to do under the sport’s anti-corruption code).
Two weeks later in Moscow, The Cypriot Number One receives an SMS that reads. “I have the same question for u like 2 weeks ago … Did u change your mind? David”.
(Interestingly the Cypriot Number One also faced Dolgopolov at the tournament in Moscow though it is not clear if his is the match in question on this occasion)
The Cypriot Number One meets TIU officer Jeff Rees who is staying in the same Moscow hotel. He shows him the SMS and upon advice replies with a simple “No”.
December 21, 2010: Savic is informed of the case against him when his telephone records and bank details are requested via email.
February 15, 2011: Savic is interviewed by two TIU investigators and denies the allegations against him.
March 22, 2011: In Miami, two parties related to the case are interviewed by TIU officers and deny any knowledge of attempts by Savic or anyone else to fix matches.
(This paragraph is heavily redacted but in context it is more than likely that Dolgopolov is one of the people in question. If so, it wasn’t the first time he’d come under the TIU’s radar. The previous January he confirmed he had received a letter from them.)
May 24, 2011: Savic is officially charged with corruption offences via email.
September 12 , 2011: Savic and the TIU representatives present their cases to Professor Richard H. McLaren, the Anti-Corruption Hearing Officer, in London.
September 30, 2011: McLaren finds Savic guilty and issues him with a life ban and $100,000 fine.
October 27, 2011: Savic appeals the decision to CAS.
March 29. 2012: Savic attends a CAS hearing In Lausanne, Switzerland. The Cypriot Number One gives evidence via video-link.
September 5, 2012: CAS upholds a life ban for David Savic.
So there you have it. What we know for certain is that David Savic has been banned for life.
We also know the player that reported him to the TIU, thanks to the suspiciously shoddy redaction of the case file.
We also know that a top 20 player who has been involved in several suspicious matches in the past has once again had his name associated with a scandal.
We already knew he’d received a letter from the TIU and it now seems certain he has been interviewed on the subject too.
There is a whole lot we don’t know.
Was David Savic acting alone (which seems unlikely) or was he a go between for someone else, possibly an organised crime syndicate?
Did the TIU liaise with any law-enforcement agencies to see if there was a criminal case to answer? (Bear in mind that people have been jailed for similar offences in both the UK and Germany).
Was Savic offered a reduced sentence in exchange for assistance? There is no reference to this in the file.
If not then why not? Was the TIU content to fry a small fish rather than expose a high profile player?
As of now, two players have been banned for life under the sport’s anti-corruption code (Daniel Koellerer being the other).
Both were convicted of approaching other players, rather than fixing their own matches, and both were convicted largely on the testimony of fellow pros.
Significantly, both were obscure players meaning little media coverage and associated damage to the sport’s reputation.
Neither the Koellerer nor Savic cases have brought the match-fixing issue into the spotlight in the same way the Nikolay Davydenko case did (a storm the tennis authorities had no control over other than damage limitation).
The counter-argument to the small fish theory is that higher profile players have been in fact been investigated
Furthermore, Janko Tipsarevic implied that it was the TIU themselves who leaked the news when his bank details and phone records were requested following his match against Horacio Zeballos in Moscow in 2010.
It is most likely that there has simply been no hard evidence against any bigger names and with Savic and Koellerer both pleading not guilty, nobody willing to testify against them.
Regardless of the unanswered questions, the bottom line is that two players who were actively seeking to corrupt the sport have been banned from it for life.
Koellerer was particularly flagrant, with a trail of players testifying against him but it’s a little easier to have sympathy for Savic given the circumstances and the severity of the ban when compared to some doping cases.
He took a chance in approaching an old friend to throw a set of tennis, probably assuming their personal relationship would protect him from being exposed.
As it happens, it didn’t and he’s been left to pay a very high price.
David Savic gambled and David Savic lost.
We can hope that it is enough to serve a warning for others but given that the masterminds at the heart of the corruption are almost certainly still at large, the issue is unlikely to vanish from the sport.