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The person who constructed the largest match-fixing ring in skilled tennis Lalrp


Recreation, Set, Repair: That is half considered one of a two-part sequence a few match-fixing ring in skilled tennis. Learn half two right here.


On the morning of his arrest, Grigor Sargsyan was nonetheless fixing matches. 4 cellphones buzzed on his nightstand with calls and messages from around the globe.

Sargsyan was sprawled on a mattress in his dad and mom’ condo, making offers between snatches of sleep. It was 3 a.m. in Brussels, which meant it was 8 a.m. in Thailand. The W25 Hua Hin match was about to begin.

Sargsyan was negotiating with skilled tennis gamers making ready for his or her matches, athletes he had assiduously recruited over years. He wanted them to throw a recreation or a set — and even only a level — so he and a world community of associates may place bets on the outcomes.

That’s how Sargsyan had change into wealthy. As playing on tennis exploded right into a $50 billion trade, he had infiltrated the game, paying execs extra to lose matches, or components of matches, than they might make by successful tournaments.

Sargsyan had crisscrossed the globe constructing his roster, which had grown to incorporate greater than 180 skilled gamers throughout 5 continents. It was one of many largest match-fixing rings in trendy sports activities, giant sufficient to earn Sargsyan a nickname whispered all through the tennis world: the Maestro.

Grigor Sargsyan on his approach to the felony court docket of Oudenaarde, Belgium, on April 27, 2023. (Sebastien Van Malleghem for The Washington Submit)

This Washington Submit investigation of Sargsyan’s felony enterprise, and the way the altering nature of playing has corrupted tennis, relies on dozens of interviews with gamers, coaches, investigators, tennis officers and match fixers. The Submit obtained tens of hundreds of Sargsyan’s textual content messages, a whole lot of pages of inner European law-enforcement paperwork, and the interrogation transcripts of gamers.

By the point he was speaking with the gamers in Thailand, Sargsyan had honed his techniques. He had realized to nurture those who have been nervous. He knew when to be businesslike and direct, speaking his presents like an auctioneer.

That was Sargsyan’s strategy on the evening in June 2018 that will be his final as a match fixer. He defined to Aleksandrina Naydenova, a Bulgarian participant struggling to interrupt into the world’s high 200, that she may select how severely she wished to tank a set. He despatched the texts in English:

If she misplaced her first service recreation, she would make 1,000 euros, he wrote. If she misplaced the second, she would make 1,200 euros. It didn’t matter if she gained the match, solely that she misplaced these video games.

Naydenova appeared prepared.

“Give me a while to verify,” she wrote.

As Sargsyan waited, a Belgian police SWAT staff was on its approach to his dad and mom’ home. The staff had been planning the raid for months, the end result of a two-year investigation that spanned Western Europe.

Sargsyan positioned the cellphone on his bedside desk subsequent to the others he used to message gamers and associates. He sprawled on his mattress, making an attempt not to go to sleep. Then, from downstairs, he heard hushed voices talking over walkie-talkies. He cracked open the door to his room and noticed a number of cops and a Belgian Malinois. The officers noticed their goal: a brief, chubby man in pajamas. They sprinted up the steps and into Sargsyan’s room.

Sargsyan lunged for his telephones, however the officers received to them first. They put him in handcuffs and listed the costs in opposition to him: cash laundering and fraud.

“I do know what that is about,” Sargsyan mentioned.

The data on his units would supply a exceptional window into what has change into the world’s most manipulated sport, in response to betting regulators. 1000’s of texts, playing receipts and financial institution transfers laid out Sargsyan’s ascent in exceptional element, displaying how an Armenian immigrant in Belgium with no background in tennis had managed to deprave a sport with a refined, moneyed picture.


Sargsyan described himself as a sort of Robin Hood, a patron who flouted the legislation and the ethics of tennis to reimburse its poorest gamers. The majority of the game’s 1,300 tournaments are far-flung and provide little prize cash. Some are so small that they’re held on highschool courts, paying winners as little as $2,352. And but those self same obscure matches, a good distance from the luster of Wimbledon, have change into autos for billions of {dollars} in playing.

When he met recruits, Sargsyan launched himself as a “sponsor” and a lifelong fan of the game. He performed down the illegality of match-fixing, questioning aloud how one thing really easy could possibly be labeled as a criminal offense.

“It was my whole life,” mentioned Sargsyan, 33, throughout interviews carried out over 10 hours wherein he described his felony enterprise.

As investigators received nearer to arresting him, they concluded that Sargsyan was engaged on behalf of a transnational felony syndicate primarily based in Armenia. He was sending thousands and thousands of {dollars} to a person within the nation’s capital, Yerevan.

The Sargsyan investigation would lead tennis officers to challenge a string of lifetime bans and suspensions from the game. However whilst they tried to purge his community from the tour, extra match-fixing alerts poured in.

When it got here time to prosecute Sargsyan this spring, an legal professional for skilled tennis, Mathieu Baert, described the dimensions of the community to a Belgian courtroom.

“One of many largest match-fixing information ever to floor on this planet,” Baert mentioned in his opening assertion.

He instructed the choose concerning the trove of proof discovered on Sargsyan’s telephones. There was extra data that eluded investigators, on units that Sargsyan had used and discarded; his story pointed to a bigger drawback dealing with the game.

“The present outcomes are, thus, the tip of the iceberg,” Baert mentioned.


By 2016, gamers started whispering a few man often known as the Maestro. He glided by different names, too: Gregory, Greg, GG and TonTon. Some gamers knew him as Ragnar, after the Viking warrior.

He would seem, out of nowhere, at a match in Valencia, Spain, talking Spanish, ferrying gamers to the fanciest restaurant within the metropolis in his Jaguar. Then he was on the sidelines of a match in Belgium, talking excellent Russian. He appeared at a Berlin nightclub with German gamers. He made reservations at an unique restaurant within the South of France with a widely known coach from the USA.

He purchased diamond rings for gamers’ wives. He paid for flights. He handed out cellphones and the keys to an empty Brussels condo. Gamers spoke of his attraction, his seemingly countless provide of money, his capacity to shift amongst 5 languages. It was as if he strolled out of a European nation membership and was instantly a fixture at skilled tennis matches.

“Everybody within the tennis world is aware of that Maestro does match-fixing,” Mick Lescure, a former French professional who collaborated with Sargsyan, instructed French police in 2019, in response to a transcript of the interrogation. “He may make it in order that two opponents enjoying one another are each working for him.”

However not one of the gamers knew a lot concerning the Maestro. Only a few even knew his actual identify.

Grigor Sargsyan was born in 1990 in Armavir, Armenia, close to the border with Turkey. He got here to Brussels when he was 9. His dad and mom cleaned homes and labored in building. They lived in Saint-Josse, town’s poorest neighborhood and an arrival level for migrants from around the globe.

Sargsyan was struck by the wealth and energy that lay solely a brief stroll from Saint-Josse. It was lower than two miles from the European Parliament and a number of the metropolis’s most glamorous residences. He and his pals slipped into fancy grocery shops, stealing caviar, lobster and champagne and fleeing with their arms full.

On the weekends, Sargsyan discovered a spot within the metropolis’s aggressive chess scene, the place his life in Saint-Josse felt like a pores and skin he may shed. He confirmed up in dishevelled shorts and a T-shirt and rose via the ranks. At 13, after successful an area match, he performed in opposition to Anatoly Karpov, the previous world chess champion.

Sargsyan favored the sensation of management chess gave him, he mentioned, the best way he may bend the sport to his thoughts. It was, for some time, the factor that made him really feel strongest.

Sargsyan, then 13, performs a match in opposition to former chess world champion Anatoly Karpov in 2002 in Brussels. (Household photograph)

Then, in the future throughout a recreation, Sargsyan felt a seed of doubt. He was contemplating his subsequent transfer when the stakes instantly felt overwhelming. One flawed transfer and he was achieved, his opponent able to destroy him. It was a sense that started to floor virtually each time he performed: His mind froze, as if a synapse had misfired.

“I turned paranoid. You begin to suppose, ‘Everyone seems to be making an attempt to harm and lure me,’” he mentioned.

At 16, Sargsyan stop chess perpetually.

As a substitute, he took to strolling aimlessly via the streets of Brussels. As soon as, he handed a betting workplace the place the French Open was enjoying on tv. It was the primary time he’d ever watched a tennis match; he was transfixed. When his highschool required college students to join a sport, Sargsyan selected tennis.

His Armenian pals in Saint-Josse joked that he was making an attempt too onerous to assimilate. His French had change into impeccable. He dreamed of turning into a robust lawyer. Now he was enjoying a sport wherein even the scoring system appeared designed to obfuscate.

However when he returned to his neighborhood from tennis observe, Sargsyan would drop his tutorial French. He wished to show his avenue smarts nevertheless he may; in highschool, he was caught stealing a dwell rooster.

“I may play two completely different characters,” Sargsyan mentioned.

By commencement, his pals who had as soon as stolen lobsters and caviar have been fixtures on the neighborhood bookmaker. They fell quickly into debt by betting on soccer, Sargsyan mentioned, their conversations revolving round their most up-to-date wagers.

“It was all they talked about. They have been on their telephones consistently checking scores, checking odds,” he mentioned.

What about tennis? he questioned. Sargsyan realized that you can now wager on hundreds of obscure matches around the globe. Bookmakers have been selling wagers on tournaments on the margins of the game. In some circumstances, the winners of those Futures or Challengers tournaments earned barely sufficient to pay for his or her lodge rooms. A poor participant, he thought, could possibly be a corruptible one.

“It was like I put my finger on the weak point,” he mentioned.

Sargsyan poured over the tour schedules, the a whole lot of tournaments in cities so small that he hadn’t heard of them, with the identical journeymen lugging their very own gear from one nation to the following. Like him, these gamers lived on the border between poverty and wealth. Sargsyan thought: What would they be prepared to do for a number of thousand {dollars}?

“I wanted to strive,” he mentioned.


When most individuals watch a tennis match, they don’t see a monetary instrument. They see a show of pure athleticism: gamers returning serves at 130 miles per hour, an alchemy of energy and management.

However Sargsyan realized that just about each skilled tennis match on this planet now serves a second function, as a car for playing. By 2014, you can go browsing or stroll right into a bookmaker’s store and wager on tens of hundreds of matches a yr throughout 65 nations. He realized {that a} sport that telegraphed its aristocratic bona fides — “a gentleman’s recreation” — was an oddly welcoming place to commit fraud.


Sargsyan was a part of an ideal custom of tennis gamblers, a pastime almost as outdated as the game itself. For many years, they positioned wagers on main tournaments, just like the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. Bobby Riggs, the U.S. singles champion within the Thirties and ’40s, was identified to wager on his personal matches. “I’ve received to have a wager going as a way to play my greatest,” Riggs wrote in his 1973 memoir, “Court docket Hustler.”

However Sargsyan may inform tennis playing was about to enter a brand new period. Widespread web entry and liberalized playing legal guidelines made it attainable to position bets on low-level tournaments in distant cities. You might wager on something: a degree, a recreation, a set.

Skilled tennis is split into three excursions: the Worldwide Tennis Federation (ITF), masking the bottom tier of competitors, and the Affiliation of Tennis Professionals (ATP Tour) and the Ladies’s Tennis Affiliation (WTA), which host the game’s most elite matches and the mid-level Challenger sequence. The ITF and Challenger tournaments are pipelines for younger expertise and method stations for ageing gamers struggling to remain within the sport. The excursions maintain greater than 60,000 matches a yr in cities from Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, to Aktobe, Kazakhstan, to Toulouse, France.

At the same time as gamers complained about not making a sustainable revenue, the ITF invited wagers on its obscure matches, signing a five-year, $70 million take care of Swiss knowledge firm Sportradar in 2016 that gave gamblers entry to dwell updates on non-televised matches. That data allowed folks like Sargsyan to position real-time bets, though they couldn’t watch the matches.

Within the years following the Sportradar deal, playing on tennis soared. Between 2016 and 2022, wagers surged greater than 30 p.c to $50 billion; by 2018, greater than 1 / 4 of that complete was wager on the game’s lowest-level matches, in response to bookmaker knowledge.

“While these offers have generated appreciable funds for the game, they’ve additionally drastically expanded the obtainable markets for betting on the bottom ranges {of professional} tennis,” mentioned an independent review on corruption in tennis commissioned by the skilled federations in 2018. It mentioned the deal was undertaken with “inadequate diligence.”

However in 2021, the ITF prolonged its Sportradar deal for 3 years, regardless of earlier considerations from the overview board. This March, the ATP Tour signed an analogous take care of Sportradar, masking each the world’s high tournaments and mid-level Challenger occasions, with the latter having already proved weak to match fixers, together with Sargsyan.

The ITF says the likelihood of a match being fastened fell to 0.1 p.c in 2022, partly due to the creation of the Worldwide Tennis Integrity Company, which the federation helps fund. Tennis officers argue that offering accredited knowledge to gamblers prevents wagers from being positioned on distorted or fabricated scorekeeping.

Offers just like the Sportradar one are “essential to integrity safety,” Stuart Miller, the ITF’s senior government director, mentioned in a press release. “Unofficial knowledge presents a better integrity danger, together with provide to unlicensed betting operators over which there’s little oversight.”

Andreas Krannich, Sportradar’s government vp, mentioned in a press release that the corporate’s transmission of match knowledge “is a vital measure to safeguard integrity to attenuate the danger of a black market as a result of the demand is roofed and the occasion is monitored.”

The ATP didn’t reply to a number of requests for remark.

Tennis now ranks third among the many most wagered-on sports activities on this planet, after soccer and basketball. Partially due to the sport’s international footprint, extra money is wager on tennis than on American soccer and baseball mixed, in response to the Worldwide Betting Integrity Affiliation.

Even probably the most elite tennis gamers have been swarmed with presents from match fixers. Novak Djokovic, one of many high males’s gamers on this planet, mentioned he was as soon as provided $200,000 to lose a first-round match in Russia.

Legislation enforcement businesses around the globe have grown more and more involved concerning the hyperlink between sports activities playing and arranged crime. The FBI and Interpol have every shaped models to battle match-fixing. The United Nations has gotten concerned, calling organized crime “a significant and rising menace to sport.”

The skilled tennis tour receives roughly 100 match-fixing alerts a yr from betting regulators who look ahead to patterns of suspicious wagers. That’s extra alerts than for some other sport — even with matches slipping below the radar, together with most of the a whole lot that Sargsyan fastened.

Since 2022, tennis officers have banned or suspended 40 gamers for match-fixing. However dismantling a complete community has proved enormously tough.

The Sargsyan case, when it emerged, provided uncommon proof of how entrenched organized crime has change into on the tour.


It began with $350. On the time, it was most of Sargsyan’s financial savings.

He put the cash in his pockets and climbed right into a buddy’s hatchback. The Belgian countryside flashed previous him. It was 2014. Sargsyan was 24, a legislation scholar on the College of Brussels. He was nonetheless dwelling along with his dad and mom. His final brush with the police — when he’d been arrested for stealing a bicycle — was a number of years behind him.

Now he was on his approach to recruit his first skilled tennis participant.

Sargsyan had examine a match in Arlon, a small Belgian metropolis on the Luxembourg border. He noticed that the whole purse for the match was lower than $25,000 and that most of the gamers have been journeymen who struggled to interrupt even on the tour.

Sargsyan formulated his plan. He would determine a participant who appeared determined — possibly one of many males from Latin America or North Africa. Sargsyan mentioned he assumed they’d be those most in want. He would provide the participant a portion of his winnings to throw a set. The participant may nonetheless win the match.

Sargsyan arrived on the lodge the place the gamers have been staying. He seemed throughout the foyer and noticed a crowd {of professional} tennis gamers. They have been a number of the world’s greatest athletes, males whose groundstrokes have been as practiced and fluid as calligraphy. At their stage, in virtually some other main sport, they’d be millionaires.

He walked over to a younger participant from Latin America who was stringing his racket in a nook of the foyer. Years later, when Sargsyan was requested whether or not he was nervous throughout his first strategy, he scoffed, as if he was unfamiliar with the sensation.

“I don’t get nervous.”

The lodge wasn’t glamorous. With the gamers making ready their very own gear, it had the texture of a transformed locker room. The ITF tour, Sargsyan would later study, is stuffed with moments that invert the picture most individuals have of tennis. Gamers do their very own laundry to save cash; some share rooms; McDonald’s is a well-liked post-match meal.

“Do you want playing?” Sargsyan requested, and the participant instantly appeared to know what he was speaking about.

They walked outdoors. Sargsyan made his provide. He would pay the participant to lose the second set of the match 6-0. The person accepted immediately, Sargsyan recollects.

The percentages on the match have been 11 to 1. The participant tanked, simply as he mentioned he would, lacking even simple returns, double-faulting, performatively slapping balls into the online. Sargsyan walked away with almost $4,000. He paid the participant, whom he wouldn’t determine, about $600.

“It was an unimaginable feeling,” he mentioned.

If there was one thing concerning the rush of competitors that had virtually damaged him in his chess profession, filling him with an awesome sense of shedding management, fixing tennis matches felt like a renewed supply of energy.

He instantly deliberate on doing it once more. He gave the Latin American participant a journey to his girlfriend’s home alongside the North Sea, euphoric as they sped via the countryside.

“Are you aware some other gamers who is perhaps ?” Sargsyan requested him.

“Oh,” the participant mentioned, “positively.”


The message popped up on Karim Hossam’s cellphone from an unknown Belgian quantity.

“Hey bro.”

Hossam instantly knew who it was. Match fixers may sense when gamers have been most weak, most in want of money. And none of them extra acutely than the person folks known as Gregory, who as soon as once more had timed his strategy properly.

Hossam was determined.

He had been the Eleventh-best junior tennis participant on this planet after which the most effective skilled participant in Africa. The Egyptian was tall, with a robust serve and a fierce forehand. His rise to stardom appeared inevitable.

However by the point he was 22, in 2016, Hossam had realized how tough it was to outlive as knowledgeable tennis participant outdoors the world’s high 100. It price hundreds of {dollars} to journey between tournaments. He had to purchase his personal rackets and footwear.

Karim Hossam performs a forehand in a first-round singles match on the 2012 French Open Junior Championships. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Photos)

The ITF tour was the most typical highway to the game’s highest ranks. A profitable younger participant may enter an ITF Futures match one weekend and Wimbledon the following. However to Hossam, the tour’s construction had come to appear absurd. Even when he gained a match, he may barely cowl his bills. More often than not, he spent extra money to play tennis than he earned.

His household had bankrolled him for years, however these funds have been operating out. After the 2011 Arab Spring rebellion in Egypt, his household’s lumber plant outdoors Cairo had suffered. Then, in 2015, his father was recognized with most cancers. The medical payments piled up.

So when the textual content message arrived from the person who known as himself Gregory, Hossam was frantically searching for a approach to keep afloat.

Sargsyan had gotten Hossam’s quantity from a Moroccan participant named Younès Rachidi, who would later break the inauspicious file for the most match-fixing offenses in the sport’s history: 135 in lower than 10 months. Rachidi instructed The Submit he regrets his function in Sargsyan’s ring. However he mentioned he is aware of different gamers who fastened much more matches than he did who have been by no means caught.

“It’s like doubling your cash. It feels excellent, and nobody is aware of,” Rachidi mentioned. “You suppose, ‘That’s it?’ The entire world is rose-colored.”

Again then, although, he was only a buddy of Hossam’s, one other journeyman on the ITF tour who noticed match-fixing as a approach to keep afloat.

“I trusted Rachidi, and so I responded to Gregory,” Hossam later mentioned in an interview.

The primary time, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Sargsyan requested whether or not Hossam would lose a set for $2,500. Hossam agreed, however he walked onto the court docket dizzy with dread. It felt unusual to lose deliberately after a lifetime of being obsessive about successful.

“It felt like everybody was watching me. I felt like I used to be doing one thing flawed, prefer it wasn’t regular. I invested my entire life in tennis. I used to be enjoying for 15 years, after which, abruptly, I’m promoting matches to get cash.”


He seemed on the chair umpire. Was it in Hossam’s head, or did the umpire look suspicious? The group, too, appeared to stare at him askance.

“You’re principally an actor on the court docket. Like if I’m shedding love-30, then possibly I can play one level to make it look slightly bit actual after which miss the purpose after.”

After he threw his first set for Sargsyan, he threw one other — after which one other.

“Grigor used to textual content me like: Hey, Karim, I’ve a extremely good provide for you — do you wish to lose the primary set 6-1, for instance, and get this sum of money? He provides you choices. After which when you’re a seed or you have got a greater rating, clearly, he provides you a greater provide as a result of everyone seems to be betting on you to win.”

Typically Sargsyan would ask him to throw a match in opposition to a a lot weaker participant. That was significantly tough.

“Clearly, when you’re enjoying in opposition to a stable participant, it’s very simple to promote a match,” Hossam mentioned. “I may give him brief balls and make him assault, you already know, like make him play extra aggressive, give him simple balls.”

“However when you’re enjoying in opposition to somebody who’s simply lacking balls, then I’ve to exit of my method, you already know, like I’ve to make a double fault.”


Hossam nonetheless knew Sargsyan solely as Gregory, the wealthy child who flew throughout Europe to observe tennis. The 2 ultimately met in Valencia, the place Hossam was enjoying a match. Sargsyan was precisely as Hossam had imagined: an impeccably dressed Belgian man in his 20s, oozing attraction. He invited Hossam to among the finest eating places within the metropolis.

“He’s simply this actually cool man,” Hossam later mentioned. “Straightforward to speak to, well-connected, beneficiant.”

Hossam had met different match fixers on the ITF circuit. A few of them have been skilled gamers who gambled on the aspect. There was the participant from Belarus who nagged him incessantly within the locker room; the Greek participant who was infamous for not paying individuals who threw their matches at his request. Hossam had fastened a number of matches with these males. However Sargsyan was completely different.

He paid shortly in money or MoneyGram transfers. He responded to messages immediately, irrespective of once they have been despatched. He appeared to know everybody. So when Sargsyan proposed that Hossam recruit extra gamers into the ring for a fee, Hossam didn’t hesitate.

Hossam knew most of the greatest gamers from throughout the creating world, most of whom confronted the identical monetary struggles he did. At main tournaments, they watched the giants of the sport stroll by within the locker room — Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, a number of the wealthiest males within the historical past of sports activities. The gulf between the superstars and the journeymen felt directly slender — a stronger serve, extra constant groundstrokes — and impossibly large.

To Hossam, getting caught appeared inconceivable. He was so sure of the plan’s infallibility that he determined to recruit his brother into Sargsyan’s ring.

Youssef Hossam was 4 years youthful and much more gifted than Karim. He was relentless, dragging himself throughout the court docket to the purpose of exhaustion, even when he was shedding. The household paid for him to coach on the Mouratoglou Tennis Academy in southern France with Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’s former coach. In 2017, Youssef’s first full yr enjoying professionally, he was instantly a star. He gained 5 ITF tournaments, rocketing into the world’s high 300.

Youssef Hossam trains on a court docket in suburban Cairo in September 2017. On the time, the 19-year-old held an ATP 334 rating, (Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Photos)

“I consider I’ve the tennis to make the highest 100. I don’t see an enormous hole,” he instructed a reporter on the Australian Open in 2016. “I’ll want assist, not simply monetary, though that’s essential as a result of touring to tournaments may be very costly.”

Youssef had grown up worshiping his older brother. However the first time Karim broached the thought of fixing a match, Youssef recoiled, he mentioned in an interview.

“I used to be like, ‘What the hell is that this?’”

Nonetheless, Youssef knew that his tennis academy price hundreds of {dollars} a month. It was greater than Youssef made, whilst he surpassed his brother on the tour. Together with his household’s funds deteriorating, Youssef realized that with out an infusion of money, he must stop tennis.

“I used to be like, ‘Okay, I can’t be egocentric.’ My brother and my dad are serving to me, paying that sum of money for my observe, paying for this and that. That is the least I can do, you already know, to assist them financially.”

The primary time he agreed to repair a match was in Cairo in 2017. Karim defined that they might make $4,000 if Youssef misplaced the primary set 6-2 to a a lot lesser participant. It was sufficient to cowl a number of weeks at his coaching camp.

“It was the primary time I needed to step on the court docket and really give like 20 or 30 p.c,” Youssef mentioned. “I used to be like, ‘No, this isn’t proper.’ However there are not any choices, you already know, like we’ve got zero cash. If you happen to repair this, you earn a living, you go observe, life goes on. If you happen to don’t repair this, we don’t have cash and also you simply keep at residence.”

Nonetheless, Youssef struggled to lose. His opponent was weak. To throw a set, Youssef started making errors that solely a novice would make.

“I’d simply miss, hit the forehand as onerous as I may, two meters out,” he mentioned.

However even then, he virtually gained too many video games within the set.

“I needed to do a pair additional double faults,” he mentioned.

Hossam match

The following time Youssef threw a match was in Sharm el-Sheikh. Karim walked over to the fence and beckoned his brother in the midst of a recreation. He had been texting with Sargsyan. There was a chance for a repair.

“I’m on the court docket. I’ll ask my brother now,” Karim texted Sargsyan.

Their father was within the ICU. Youssef was having bother focusing. He slammed his racket on the bottom.

“Karim got here to the fence and he requested me, ‘Bro, do you wish to lose the second set?’

“And I used to be like, ‘Yeah, no matter, man. I don’t give a s—.’ I simply wished to tug out.”

It was a second that will ultimately carry each of their careers crashing down; Karim’s courtside strategy, the texts and Youssef’s dramatic loss have been overwhelming proof of their match-fixing plan.

And but, even after the brothers have been caught, Sargsyan, seemingly untouchable, continued constructing his ring.


One of many first issues Sargsyan did along with his new fortune was purchase a Rolex. It wasn’t simply that he favored the watch — although he did. It was an funding within the picture he was making an attempt to domesticate.

“These gamers, they’re obsessive about Rolex,” he mentioned.

Sargsyan realized that he wanted to undertaking an aura of easy, generational wealth to steer gamers to throw matches as he prescribed. He usually wore Hugo Boss from head to toe. He realized what bottles of wine to order, which eating places served the most effective langoustines, which lodge in Barcelona had the most effective view of the Mediterranean.


He realized to put on the watch nonchalantly, as if he had forgotten it was on his wrist. However each transfer Sargsyan made was calculated. When he started talking to a recruit, he would make certain the watch was coated by a shirt sleeve. Then he would casually guarantee it turned seen, unveiling it so the participant couldn’t assist however discover.

“Prefer it was nothing,” Sargsyan mentioned.

It was the identical along with his Jaguar.

“It’s truly not as costly as folks suppose,” he mentioned. “Nevertheless it sends a message.”

Sargsyan picked up on small particulars that hinted at a participant’s desperation. There was the French participant struggling to purchase a diamond engagement ring, so Sargsyan paid for it. There was the Chilean participant who couldn’t afford to fly his mom to his marriage ceremony, so Sargsyan purchased the ticket.

Then there have been the nightclubs and the dinners. There have been the purchases that he nonetheless doesn’t wish to talk about publicly however that make him smile boyishly in memory. Typically he would pay gamers greater than he promised them. Different occasions, even when they didn’t ship, he would nonetheless hand them the money.

“It was about retaining them completely happy,” he mentioned.

Sargsyan’s face broadcast his pleasure within the life he had constructed out of nothing. He laughed simply, as if he noticed levity on this planet that was seen solely to him. There was a sort of magnetism in that; spending time round Sargsyan was like being invited to a celebration that moved alongside him, insulated from consequence.

Nonetheless, he realized that some gamers, for private causes, have been incorruptible. Being rejected was an inevitable a part of being a match fixer.

“Typically you ask a man how he’s surviving on the tour and he tells you his father is a billionaire,” Sargsyan mentioned. “In these circumstances, you simply transfer on.”

Sargsyan knew that tennis was stuffed with match fixers. His community would develop provided that he was good to his roster. He usually delivered the money himself at prepare stations throughout Western Europe. In a single month, authorities would later recount, he traveled between Belgium and Paris 22 occasions with envelopes of money.

Some gamers, buoyed by Sargsyan’s strategy, inspired him to gamble extra money on their matches when the percentages have been good.

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Aleksandrina Naydenova enjoying in a doubles semifinal match on the WTA Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open in October 2016. (Energy Sport Photos/Getty Photos)

“Put 1,000 extra. Go quick,” Naydenova, the Bulgarian participant, instructed Sargsyan in a single message in 2016. Naydenova couldn’t be reached for remark.

Naydenova’s cost arrived promptly in Bulgaria by MoneyGram, addressed to her dad and mom from a person in Armenia, in response to receipts obtained by investigators. The sender was the identical one that had dispatched a lot of Sargsyan’s money around the globe. His identify was Andranik Martirosyan.

Not one of the gamers had heard of him. Most paid little consideration to the place the cash got here from. However Martirosyan would transform a important determine. Belgian investigators would later write that he “was answerable for the monetary a part of the felony group.”

Digital financial institution accounts linked to Martirosyan would obtain a good portion of Sargsyan’s earnings — no less than 9 million euros in two years, in response to wire switch receipts obtained by investigators.

And but Martirosyan, who declined to remark, seems to have been working with Sargsyan from an Armenian jail.

In 2015, simply as Sargsyan was constructing his community, Martirosyan acquired a six-year jail sentence for assaulting a number of males on the dance ground of the Caliente nightclub in Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. The official cost was hooliganism, in response to court docket information.

It’s unclear how he and Sargsyan met, or how Martirosyan operated from jail. The 2 males exchanged messages consistently. As soon as, when Sargsyan expressed concern about one other felony group, it was Martirosyan who tried to reassure him.

“They are going to threaten with phrases, however when it comes all the way down to finishing up what they are saying, they are going to do nothing,” he wrote in a textual content.

“No,” Sargsyan responded. “You’re mistaken.”


By 2017, Sargsyan had set a aim for himself: He wished the largest match-fixing community in tennis. He dreamed of opening his personal tennis membership within the South of France.

“I requested myself, ‘How can I industrialize this?’”

He wanted somebody who may carry him not only one or two gamers, however a complete raft of expertise.

Within the Netherlands, he met Sebastian Rivera, a third-generation skilled participant from Chile who gave the impression to be headed to the highest tier of tennis teaching. Rivera was lean, with lengthy black hair that he wore in a bun or below a bandanna. He defined his teaching philosophy on his web site: “There’s a distinction between good gamers and good opponents.”

Rivera had secured a job with Sean Bollettieri-Abdali, the son of legendary coach Nick Bollettieri, at a tennis membership in Newport Seashore, Calif. Bollettieri, who had coached Andre Agassi, Venus and Serena Williams and Boris Becker, labored regularly alongside his son. Rivera was answerable for coaching a number of of this system’s greatest prospects. His teaching was incisive. He may watch somebody play for a couple of minutes and provide you with an astute prognosis of their recreation.

“He was a extremely good coach. On the court docket, he was high-energy, very strict, with a great work ethic,” mentioned Bollettieri-Abdali, who managed the membership. “He had the entire attributes.”

However not lengthy after Rivera started working on the membership, Bollettieri-Abdali started to suspect that one thing about him was off.

“I knew that man was f—ing bother.”

Rivera appeared to know each promising younger participant in Latin America, which made him a significant asset to the Bollettieri growth efforts. It was that very same community that made him precious to Sargsyan.

When the 2 met within the Netherlands, they sized one another up. Sargsyan had come to see tennis as a world divided between the wealthy and the poor. Was Rivera poor sufficient that he could possibly be tempted?

Rivera checked out Sargsyan.

“The man was super-nice and well mannered, like a rustic membership child in a polo,” Rivera recalled in an interview. “He seemed 23 years outdated. He has his Rolex. He’s this wealthy child who says he’s there to assist gamers.”

Rivera listened to Sargsyan’s pitch. It was the start of a profitable partnership.

On the Bollettieri membership, Rivera requested gamers in the event that they have been keen on throwing matches. Between observe classes on the pristine, palm-tree-lined courts, he requested different coaches in the event that they have been prepared to recruit prospects into Sargsyan’s community.

“He would come as much as us and ask, ‘Do you wish to make extra cash on the aspect?’” recalled one coach, who spoke on the situation of anonymity as a result of he apprehensive about angering Rivera. “He wished us to introduce him to gamers who trusted us.”

In 2017 and 2018, Rivera would carry Sargsyan 34 gamers from the Bollettieri membership and past‚ together with six People, in response to Belgian authorities, receiving no less than $90,000 in fee. Their relationship is captured in a whole lot of pages of textual content messages later seized by investigators and offered to The Submit.

“Sebass, inform him to say his worth for the second set,” Sargsyan mentioned a few singles match he wished a participant to throw.

“Okay bro,” Rivera mentioned.

Just a few messages later, after Rivera consulted with the participant, the deal was achieved.

“Confirmed,” Rivera wrote.

The 2 turned shut, texting in any respect hours. Sargsyan generally received upset with Rivera when he wasn’t obtainable in the midst of the evening.

“Sebass, you go to sleep,” he wrote, including a sad-face emoji. “Like this, it’s inconceivable to work.”

Within the interview, Rivera got here up with an elaborate rationalization for his involvement. He mentioned he was working undercover for a BBC journalist doing an investigation into match-fixing.

“Chris one thing,” he mentioned. “I want I may keep in mind his final identify.”

Rivera mentioned he maintained the connection with Sargsyan, persevering with to attach him to gamers, in order that nobody would suspect he was working with a reporter to doc corruption within the sport.

“To maintain it cool, you already know?” he mentioned.

When requested about Rivera, the BBC mentioned in a press release that it “has seen no proof to substantiate these claims. … The BBC has excessive journalistic requirements and we’ve got strict processes and tips in place that we should adhere to.”

In 2016, in a joint investigation, the BBC and BuzzFeed reported that a number of high gamers have been suspected of fixing matches, though they have been by no means punished.

One of many gamers in Rivera’s circle was Dagmara Baskova, a high skilled in Slovakia. She had gone professional when she was 15. On the tour, she was drawn to gamers who, like her, didn’t come from wealth.

“Lots of the gamers, particularly the Russians, come from wealthy households,” she mentioned. “For me, tennis was an escape from life.

Baskova met Rivera first in Sharm el-Sheikh after which once more in Tunis. They smoked hookah in his lodge room. He began teaching her informally, and she or he may instantly see his expertise. “He can learn your tennis immediately,” she mentioned. “He’ll inform you use your weapons.”


By 2017, when she was 26, Baskova’s knee was badly injured. The surgical procedure was greater than she may afford, and even with the most effective medical care, she would by no means return to high kind. She may inform her profession was over.

She bumped into Rivera on the lodge.

“I instructed him my knee was hurting, and he mentioned, ‘You realize, you may promote your match,’” she recalled in an interview.

Rivera gave her three choices for the way badly to lose a set. Shedding, she realized, was simple.

“For instance, after I was serving, I simply hit a double fault on function,” she mentioned.

The cash arrived by way of MoneyGram from Armenia: $10,000 for the repair. She did it repeatedly. By the point she was achieved fixing matches a number of months later, she had made an easy $50,000, she mentioned. She dreamed of beginning a tennis membership in Thailand.

“It was the cash I wanted to arrange for my life past tennis,” she mentioned.


As his community grew, Sargsyan turned suspicious that the police have been on to him. He believed he was being adopted — right into a pizzeria, a park the place he strolled after midnight, a prepare station in Paris. He apprehensive about his telephones being wiretapped.

Rivera may inform that Sargsyan was rising extra anxious, the fastidiously constructed veneer of wealth and insouciance sometimes sporting skinny. Sargsyan would generally snap when gamers didn’t lose after promising to, or once they made it apparent they have been shedding on function. When one match in Egypt went awry, Sargsyan despatched Rivera a flurry of threatening texts.

“I’m mad.”

“The f— I’m doing this since 3am.”

“I’ll break his legs.”

It could end up that Sargsyan’s fears weren’t unfounded. He was being watched.

Recreation, Set, Repair: That is half considered one of a two-part sequence a few match-fixing ring in skilled tennis. Learn half two right here.

About this story

Pauline Denys in Brussels and Koba Ryckewaert in Oudenaarde, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Illustrations by Anson Chan. Design and improvement by Andrew Braford. Knowledge reporting by Steven Wealthy. Graphics by Artur Galocha. Analysis by Cate Brown. Design enhancing by Joe Moore. Picture enhancing by Olivier Laurent. Copy enhancing by Martha Murdock and Shibani Shah. Story enhancing by Peter Finn. Undertaking enhancing by Reem Akkad.

Recreation, Set, Repair: In a two-part investigation, The Washington Submit examined one of many largest match-fixing rings in trendy sports activities and the largest match-fixing ring in tennis historical past.

Methodology: To conduct this investigation, reporters at The Submit spoke to European cops and prosecutors. The tales are additionally primarily based on dozens of interviews with gamers, coaches, police investigators, tennis officers and match fixers. Reporters analyzed over 30,000 textual content messages and a whole lot of pages of European law-enforcement paperwork, together with interrogation transcripts of gamers, photographs and police investigative information revealing the depth and breadth of Grigor Sargysan’s relationships with tennis gamers and the gamblers who wager on their video games. Knowledge on betting markets and irregular betting was collected from regulators around the globe. Level-by-point knowledge on matches was compiled for cases of identified fixing to look at how agreed-upon fixes in textual content messages performed out on the court docket. Reporters additionally created a knowledge set on winnings in fastened matches to investigate in opposition to the quantities gamers comprised of fixing matches, units or video games.