Europeans unravel massive tennis match-fixing ring

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PARIS — The crooked tennis players knew him as “Maestro.” To European investigators, the Armenian based in Belgium is emerging as the suspected ringleader of an organized gambling syndicate suspected of fixing hundreds of matches and paying off more than 100 players from around Europe.

As Roger Federer and other stars at the top of tennis compete in the Australian Open, players far lower down the sport’s food chain are being questioned this week by police in France on suspicion of fixing matches for Grigor Sargsyan, 28-year-old known as the Maestro, investigators said. Sargsyan is being held in a Belgian jail.

The picture emerging from months of digging by police working across Europe is of a massive match-fixing scheme, organized via encrypted messaging, involving dozens of low-ranked players in small tournaments with little prize money. Police say Sargsyan employed mules, people hired for a few euros (dollars) to place bets for the syndicate that were small enough to slip under the radar of gambling watchdogs.

Sources close to the investigation, all speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to discuss details publicly, said four French players were in police custody on Wednesday and at least one of them told investigators that he fixed around two dozen matches for Sargsyan.

They named the players as Jules Okala, 21; Mick Lescure, 25; Yannick Thivant, 31; and Jerome Inzerillo, 28. None operated in the highest spheres of tennis. The career-best singles ranking of any of them was 354, reached by Inzerillo in 2012. The arrests of Okala and Lescure were first reported Wednesday by French sports newspaper L’Equipe.

A dozen or more other French players are expected to be questioned in coming weeks. An investigator said France was one of the countries “hardest hit” by the syndicate, which targeted lower-level pro tournaments. Okala and Lescure were detained before they were to play in a modest tournament in Bressuire, western France, this week that offers a total of $15,000 in prize money.

Investigators have also questioned players in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovakia, and Bulgaria and are looking to question others, including both players and managers, in the United States, Chile and Egypt.

In all, more than 100 players are suspected of having worked with the syndicate, fixing matches, sets or games in exchange for payments of 500 to 3,000 euros ($570 to $3,400).

“The impression we’re getting is that it is very commonplace,” one official told The Associated Press. Another said several hundred matches are thought to have been fixed.

Investigators fear that players used by the syndicate could suck others into the scheme and could go on to infect bigger tournaments if they climb higher in the rankings.

“In time, they could be managers of other new players or trainers so we have to get them out of the system, or they could corrupt others in a few years,” one official told The Associated Press.

Sargsyan was swept up in a wave of arrests in Belgium last June and faces organized crime, match fixing, money laundering and forgery charges. A suspected banker for the syndicate also faces money laundering and organized crime charges, while four others are being investigated for illegal gambling and finding mules, who are thought to have been paid for placing modest bets for the syndicate on matches that it fixed.

Because the bets were small, the risk of detection was “almost zero,” but the profits could still be considerable if many bets were placed, one official said.

Still unclear is whether the Belgium-based syndicate was linked to another match-fixing and gambling operation, also involving Armenians, unraveled in Spain . Spanish police last week announced that 28 professional tennis players, including one who participated in last year’s U.S. Open, were linked to that ring, taking bribes to fix results that the group bet on using fake identities.

Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
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Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final