London:In a revelation that is bound to send shockwaves through the tennis world, 18 players competing in this year's Wimbledon are suspected to have thrown their matches for money at The All England Club on previous occasions.
According to a sensational report in 'The Times', eight Wimbledon matches, four of which happen to be men's singles games from last year, are suspected to have been fixed by professional betting syndicates.
The matches are named in a dossier compiled by leading bookmaking companies, which keep track of suspect betting patterns.
The dossier says five of the losing players from the suspected eight Wimbledon games are in this year's men's singles competition, which begins from Monday.
18 players competing in this year's tournament are in the suspects list, dominated by Russians, Spaniards, Argentines, Italians and Austrians.
The dossier has based its findings on the sudden change in the betting patterns for the suspect matches.
The report comes as a further blow to the sport's credibility which is battling corruption charges in tournaments of the stature of Davis Cup.
The dossier states that betting network is being run by Russian and eastern European gamblers.
"If you look at a tournament, you might see one match for 23,000 (in betting turnover), one for 27,000, one for 36,000 and one for 4.5m. It doesn't take a genius to work out that something is going on in the last one," 'The Times' quoted an official claiming to have access to the dossier which lists 140 suspect matches from tournaments around the world.
The players suspected to have thrown matches in Wimbledon are also named in other tournaments with one of them, ranked in the top 150, ending up loser in eight games on the list.
Wimbledon organisers have tightened security around the locker rooms to prevent match fixers from gaining access to players. So much so, that only coaches will be allowed to enter the locker rooms this year.
The strict measures were apparently taken after a report prepared two former police officers revealed that "criminal elements" were trying to "corrupt" players and officials at The All England Club.
"The result was decided before the players came onto court. They all conform to the same pattern. There is a very dramatic shift in the market and there are enormous volumes traded," the newspaper quoted a source as saying,
The players themselves are well aware of the menace and some top names have revealed that they have been approached by match fixers.
Betfair, a British-based internet exchange, admitted that they have become suspicious of certain players and monitor betting patterns of their matches rather closely.
"We certainly monitor the market where certain players are involved far more closely than we would with others," a spokesman said.
Betfair prompted an ATP inquiry on match-fixing after it revealed suspicious betting patterns in a match lost by world number four Russian Nikolay Davydenko and Martin Vassallo Arguello, a low-ranked Argentinian.
"Davydenko was winning very, very easily. He had won the first set 6-1 and was a break up in the second but he was still not the favourite ... and then he goes on to lose the second set and pull out in the third," a Betfair spokesman said.
The inquiry is still on and both players, as expected, deny any wrongdoing.
Another player named as loser in four matches listed in the dossier said suspicious betting patterns was no proof to determine whether a player is involved in match fixing or not.
"If they have suspicious activity, they should ask the people that bet, not me. They should have the names and account numbers of the people who bet and it would be easy to know if they have some relationship with the players," he said.
The ATP, on its part, says the report had "confirmed the sport is not institutionally or systematically corrupt."
An integrity unit will be instituted to crack down on corruption and authorities are likely to announce penalties as harsh as three-year bans and fines of up to 50,000 pounds for any player involved in match-fixing.