Lleyton Hewitt, a two-time Grand Slam winner and former top-ranked player in the world, announced last year that he’d retire after the 2016 Australian Open, which would mark his 20th appearance at his home country’s biggest tournament. And while he’s still alive in the doubles bracket, his singles career came to an emotional end with a loss to David Ferrer yesterday. On the court after the match, Hewitt told the crowd that “I just felt like this was the perfect place to finish.” The good vibes didn’t last long, however: During his post-match press conference, an angry Hewitt denied having ever fixed matches, after bloggers said they’d figured out that he was one of the 15 unnamed players that a BuzzFeed algorithm identified as having “regularly lost matches in which heavily lopsided betting appeared to substantially shift the odds – a red flag for possible match-fixing.”
Via the Australian Broadcasting Company, Hewitt called any connection to match-fixing “absurd” and a “farce.” Said Hewitt: “I think it’s a joke to deal with it. Obviously, there’s no possible way. I know my name’s now been thrown into it.”
So how did Hewitt’s name get attached to the scandal in the first place? The initial report by BuzzFeed and the BBC argued that tennis officials haven’t done enough to investigate players suspected of fixing matches. The report was based in part on interviews and leaked documents, but also on the algorithm BuzzFeed created to look at the wagers placed on matches. The report did not identify the players named in the leaked documents, nor did it name the 15 players flagged by the algorithm. But, as explained here by Vice, because they released all of the data used in the analysis, some bloggers were able to use that raw data to identify the 15 players. And multiple people who reverse-engineered the data figured out that Hewitt was one of the 15.
It must be noted that even if Hewitt is indeed one of the 15 players whose name was spit out by BuzzFeed’s algorithm, that doesn’t mean he fixed matches, or that he’s even being accused of any wrongdoing. In fact, one of the sites that determined Hewitt was on the list of the 15 unnamed players makes the case that there wasn’t anything suspicious about the matches in question, while the Vice article looks at the limitations of the methodology BuzzFeed used in the first place. (It should also be pointed out that the algorithm-generated list of names is different from the “core group” of 16 players that, according to the initial report, “have repeatedly been reported for losing games when highly suspicious bets have been placed against them.” The identities of those 16 players remain unknown.)
What is clear, however, is that the timing of this is lousy for Hewitt. On the day his singles career came to a close, he had to answer questions about the scandal that’s rocking the sport. Said Hewitt in his post-match press conference, via ABC.net.au: “I don’t think anyone here would think that I’ve done anything (like) corruption or match-fixing. It’s just absurd. For anyone that tries to go any further with it, then good luck. Take me on with it.” Added Hewitt: “Yeah, it’s disappointing. I think throwing my name out there with it makes the whole thing an absolute farce.”