Tennis is all Daniel Kollerer has ever known. The Austrian left school when he was sixteen. The following year he turned professional. Just nine short years later, he was handed a lifetime ban from the sport for match fixing, an allegation he has always vigorously denied.
“This was definitely the worst time in my life,” Kollerer said, with anger still in his voice.
“There were people spitting on me in the street. They said ‘For you, it would be better to die.’”
Who doesn’t remember Crazy Dani, right? He was the bad boy of tennis before Nick Kyrgios emerged on the scene.
Always so energetic, always so passionate. There was something beautiful about the way he battled on the court. It was like it meant everything to him, like it was his destiny to be there.
Kollerer’s short-yet-eventful career peaked at the 2009 US Open when he drew Juan Martin Del Potro in the third round — his best run at a Grand Slam — but lost 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Del Potro went on to win Flushing Meadows that year, his first and only major tournament title.
Two years later, Kollerer also made history. He became the first professional player banned for life by the Tennis Integrity Unit, an independent body set up in 2008 to protect the sport. He was fined $100,000 of his $430,086 earnings.
“I spoke to my godfather I said I can’t handle this life anymore,” Kollerer recalls. “He told me that I would be becoming a father soon and I should use this opportunity to start a new life.”
He appealed against his lifetime ban, but in March 2012 the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the decision. They did, however, overturn his $100k fine.
Suddenly things were starting to look up. Kollerer was 29 and although his career was in tatters, he had enough to provide for his beloved daughter and move on. What happened next though, no one could have expected.
“Four months later when I got home from work my house was empty,” Kollerer said.
“No carpet, no table, no chairs, no television, nothing. My girlfriend had left me without saying anything. I was left with my baby daughter. At this moment, my total life was destroyed.”
It wasn’t long before Kollerer sought help from a psychiatrist. He was angry at his girlfriend, sure, but there was something that was troubling him more. He knew he was innocent.
“I came home and saw my tennis bag and I started crying like a little baby. That happened whenever I saw my bag or racket. It was unbelievable.
The TIU and the ATP they really f—– my mind. They didn’t just take my career, they took my whole life.
“I gave everything in my life to this sport. Then I got taken out of it for something I never did. On the tennis court I was such an a—— but it means nothing. I did no crimes.”
Kollerer’s innocence can be debated, though, with only those involved in the investigation truly knowing of what really happened. While the ATP were contacted for a comment but issued no reply, the TIU decided not to comment on his claims against the organisation.
But this is not just a story about Kollerer, this is also a story about match fixing, which has become a growing cancer on tennis.
While it has troubled the lower end of the game for around a decade, a joint BBC/Buzzfeed report claimed in January 2016 that of the top 50 players in the world, 16 players had been repeatedly flagged for suspicious activity but no action had been taken by the TIU.
These allegations were denied by the TIU, but the stink got worse. Three matches at Wimbledon 2017 were investigated for potential match fixing and in October 2017, the Sports Betting Intelligence Unit revealed that for the first time, tennis had overtaken football for the sport with the most red flags in suspicious betting activity in the United Kingdom.
Mark Harrison, Head of Communications at the TIU, said: “Every fan has a right to believe that what they see is competitive sport played to the highest standards.
“Protecting the good name and reputation of tennis is the highest priority for the TIU and the governing bodies of the sport.”
When asked how the TIU is identifying match fixing, he said: “There are numerous indicators and sources including reporting by players, officials and other parties, joint investigations with law enforcement and regulatory agencies and information from the gambling sector.
“Many organisations have Memorandums of Understanding with the TIU which require them to alert us to matches regarded as suspect.
“TIU investigators are highly experienced former police officers with experience in all areas of major crime, including corruption.”
After speaking to Mark, another question became very apparent, is the TIU doing enough to protect the sport?
We still don’t know how guilty the top players are. Perhaps the TIU’s final report, expected for publication in spring 2018, will provide some kind of answer to that.
But towards the bottom of the professional game, where match fixing figures are still rising, Prajnesh Gunneswaran — ranked No. 256 — provided some insight on the problem.
Gunneswaran mainly plays ATP Challenger or ITF Futures events, two of the lower professional levels, but has been to one Grand Slam and is one the highest ranked players in his country.
“This is the first year that I’ve been able to support myself financially playing tennis,” admits the 28-year-old, who has represented India at the Davis Cup.
“That’s since I got into the top 300. It’s still a grind though. If I decided to hire a coach I probably wouldn’t be able to afford it with what I make right now.
“People are resorting to match fixing to either afford continue playing or to give themselves an early retirement and do something else in life. It’s sad that it’s happening to our sport.
“I’ve never been offered money to throw a match but it has happened to friends of friends of mine.”