Thursday 7 September 2006
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Wimbledon 2006 sponcored by ALLURE

Odds stacked against Bloomfield this time
By Andrew Baker 
(Filed: 29/06/2006)

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Richard Bloomfield would rather no one had bet on his opening match at this year's Wimbledon tournament. The unheralded British player defeated Carlos Berlocq of Argentina on Tuesday only to find his achievement overshadowed by a gambling scandal.

Richard Bloomfield
Richard Bloomfield: a controversial first senior-level win

Pre-match punters had piled onto Bloomfield, taking his odds to 10/1 on. When Berlocq lost in straight sets, the bookmakers alerted the tennis authorities.

The whole affair seems something of a storm in a Pimm's cup, and yesterday assorted officials at Wimbledon occupied themselves directing inquires down assorted culs-de-sac.

Those seeking a response from the Lawn Tennis Association were pointed in the direction of the All England Club, whence they were referred to the International Tennis Federation, whose spokesperson emerged from a lengthy meeting to say that he wasn't going to say anything. Betfair, the exchange which revealed the unusual scale of the wagers on Bloomfield, didn't bother with elaborate obfuscation. They said: "No comment."

In the absence of official reaction, people fell back on that Wimbledon staple, idol gossip. No one was for a moment suggesting that either player had been involved in anything sinister, and the most convincing argument for the total incident of Berlocq went as follows: if you were going to throw a match, would you do so against a lowly Brit at Wimbledon? Someone might be expected to notice.

The most likely scenario to emerge from the Millennium building rumour mill yesterday was that friends of friends of Senor Berlocq heard that he had a bit of a dodgy ankle, noted that his form on grass was not up to much and decided to have a bit of a tickle. Alert gamblers noticed the odds on the move and piled in. Cue media frenzy.

The whole palaver has raised the profile of Bloomfield to near mythic levels. Previously a household name only in his own Bristol residence, the British No 7 is now sufficiently well known to be fair game for Celebrity Big Brother or the cover of Heat magazine.

More seriously, the fuss has undermined the value of Bloomfield's first win not only at a grand slam tournament, but in any senior-level Tour match. Such a victory, in his third appearance at Wimbledon, should have filled him with confidence, which the controversy over the match can only have diminished.

Bloomfield will have needed all the confidence he could get ahead of his next contest, but while a crocked unknown Argentine may not have provided much competition, a fit Tommy Haas is a different proposition altogether. The German veteran is the finest male player to come out of Nick Bollettieri's Florida Academy since Andre Agassi, but a habit of acquiring injuries has blighted his career. He has broken both ankles, had a dodgy hip, has undergone extensive shoulder surgery and last year had to retire from his first-round match here when he sprained his ankle by stepping on a ball.

If Bloomfield was looking for a lucky break, medical history alone suggested that Haas might be the man to provide it. Sadly for the patriotic fans who crammed into Court 13's miniature grandstand when the match commenced in bright evening sunshine, Haas appeared to be in rude health. Thwacking down aces and fashioning delightful passing shots, the German rattled off the first three games before Bloomfield had worked out which way to hold his racket.

Gradually, though, the Bristolian relaxed and, encouraged by the crowd, began to send down aces and passes of his own. Generally he looked quite comfortable in the elevated company.

Bloomfield's mission last night was to prove that his first-round victory had been no fluke, to show that the controversy, for which he was blameless, was a distraction from the qualities that he brings to the court.

Haas led by two sets to love, 6-3, 6-4, and 2-2 in the third when play was abandoned for the night, but Bloomfield will have benefited from his extraordinary Wimbledon experience. You can bet on that.

28 June 2006: Betting coup triggers alert

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