Marco Cecchinato is basking in one of tennis’s brightest spotlights this week, having reached the semifinals of the French Open in one of the bigger recent shocks in the men’s game.
Winless in his four previous Grand Slam events, the 72nd-ranked Cecchinato had reeled off five wins this year at Roland Garros. He defeated the No. 10 seed (Pablo Carreño Busta), the No. 8 seed (David Goffin), and the 12-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic en route to becoming the first Italian man to reach a major semifinal in 40 years.
But before this week, Cecchinato was most well-known for an ignominious episode at a Challenger-level tournament in Mohammedia, Morocco.
Charges related to a match at that tournament led to Cecchinato becoming one of the highest-ranked players ever convicted of match-fixing. The Federation of Italian Tennis punished him for three offenses against the integrity of the sport and released a 47-page report on the case.
Ranked 82nd at the Moroccan tournament in October 2015, Cecchinato was a heavy favorite in his quarterfinal match against 338th-ranked Kamil Majchrzak. Cecchinato lost, 6-1, 6-4. The loss itself did not trigger alarms, but wagers placed on the specific result did. The Autonomous Administration of the State Monopolies, the government agency that regulates gambling in Italy, flagged incongruously large bets placed on Majchrzak to win the match in straight sets, with odds of 7 to 1.
According to the agency, only two people in Italy placed bets on Majchrzak to win in straight sets: Riccardo Accardi and his father, Fabrizio. Riccardo Accardi, himself a low-level player, is a childhood friend of Cecchinato’s from Palermo, Italy.
Cecchinato deleted relevant communications with Riccardo Accardi from his phone, but investigators found WhatsApp messages on Accardi’s phone that they believed insinuated a fix.
In the messages, Cecchinato bemoaned losses from wagering on an Italian soccer game, and suggested that he had a chance to recoup the losses soon: “only the Moroccans can save me.” This, prosecutors contended, was Cecchinato expressing hope that he would draw a low-ranked Moroccan player at the tournament, which would draw steep betting odds that he could manipulate. He did not play any Moroccan, but lost to Majchrzak.
Investigators also pointed to Cecchinato buying a plane ticket home before the match began as sign of a predetermined result.
The penalty handed down by the federation was immediately appealed, allowing Cecchinato to continue playing on tour.
Three months later, on the initial appeal, Cecchinato’s penalty was reduced to 12 months and 20,000 euros, largely because the evidence against him was considered too circumstantial. The federal court of appeal further reduced the penalty because they ruled that investigators had failed to prove that Cecchinato himself had ever profited from bets placed by Accardi, only that he had given him information — a lesser offense than profiting from the result himself.
As the case was being processed toward its next phase, it was declared a mistrial and was dropped completely because prosecutors for the federation had exceeded the 90-day limit to complete the initial trial phase.
Cecchinato, who lost to seventh-seeded Dominic Thiem in straight sets in a French Open semifinal match on Friday, has refused to speak about any aspect of the case.
“I told you, I don’t want to speak for that,” he said at his news conference on Wednesday. “I want to think for this moment in my life. And so next time: No, please. Thank you.”
Despite his desire to move on, it is possible that Cecchinato could still face punishment; the Tennis Integrity Unit, the sport’s international watchdog body, has never weighed in on his case. If they are still investigating him — in keeping with their policies, they have not confirmed whether they are or are not — a decision might still be to come.