Sixteen could well have been the leitmotif of the Australian Open that has just passed.

It’s nothing about the year 2016, though, but the number offered by the BBC-Buzzfeed investigation which was scattered over Melbourne Park on opening day like a large consignment of fertilizer headed fan-wards.

“Oh, stop it," you may well say. What kind of jaundiced eye and cynical mind cannot gain sustenance from a fortnight of tennis that sparkled and spat? From the Grand Slam of the Asia-Pacific which produced another quick-stepping hopeful trying to trace the footsteps of the indomitable Li Na, or which offered us the compelling allure of that ageing clockwork-aesthete from Switzerland?

Surely it was lovely enough to rise above the dregs of the fixing claims from the unusual BBC-Buzzfeed alliance? Yes, we remain smitten by Roger, Djoko, Serena, Maria and love ‘em all. But the not-so-sweet 16 can’t be wished away. Sixteen, say BBC-Buzzfeed, is the number of players—from among the top 50—whose names have cropped up on as many as nine lists given to tennis officials about players under suspicion of involvement in fixing. BBC-Buzzfeed said more than half of the 16 participated in Melbourne’s “Happy Slam". The report accused tennis authorities of sitting on their hands after being given leads.

Tennis officialdom’s first reaction on 18 January “rejected" the suggestion that evidence was suppressed for “any reason". Chris Kermode, chief of the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), said gambling in tennis “is not a widespread issue". Within 10 days, however, a joint statement was issued from four tennis organizations: The men’s and women’s tours (the ATP and the Women’s Tennis Association), the International Tennis Federation that runs the grass-roots game worldwide and the Grand Slam Board that governs the four glamour events. An independent review, they said, was to be conducted of the functioning of the sport’s anti-corruption police, the Tennis Integrity Unit (TIU). Kermode said, “The landscape has changed, we are in a different world, and this is clearly the time to have a look."

The player response was varied: Roger Federer demanded names, disregarding libel. Novak Djokovic told the world that in 2007, someone in his entourage had been offered $200,000 (about 1 crore now) for him to throw a match. Serena Williams said she lived in a bubble. Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash understood the temptations faced by lower-ranked players and said the issue had been blown “way out of proportion".

The most unusual response came from World No.2 Andy Murray, who called the introduction of the Grand Slam’s first “betting sponsor" (at this year’s Australian Open) “hypocritical". Murray said: “I don’t believe the players are allowed to be sponsored by betting companies but then the tournaments are. I don’t really understand how it all works. I think it’s a bit strange.’’ Players, he said, “deserve to know everything that’s out there…"

A piece of random information around corruption in tennis also turned up in the crime section of the Melbourne Age. A week before the Open, officers from the Victoria Police Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit contacted “local tennis figures" about possible fixes around the Open. They had advance information about the BBC-Buzzfeed report and were keeping their ears to the ground. A former Aussie professional ranked in the top 70 had told them that during his career he had been approached weekly by “crime figures" asking him to throw matches.

A year ago, the same unit had exposed the first proven case of tennis match-fixing. Nick Lindahl, a former top 200 player, had agreed to lose a Futures match and tried to coerce his opponent to pay him a slice of the earnings. The opponent reported Lindahl to the unit, and Lindahl was arrested and charged in February 2015. In a twisted coincidence, Lindahl pleaded guilty in a Sydney court during the Australian Open.

On 24 January, The New York Times had also reported that sports bookmaker Pinnacle Sports suspended bets on a first-round mixed-doubles match at the Australian Open when it found as much as $25,000 being bet on one result, just before the match. Three other mixed-doubles matches on the same day, Pinnacle Sports said, had pulled in a total of less than $2,000 in bets.

Did the Lindahl guilty plea and Pinnacle suspension become the “changed landscape"? Or was it too many nicks and cuts that led them to accept that the game was in danger of heavy bleeding?

The BBC-Buzzfeed investigation had initially been dismissed as being almost a decade old. Tennis’ second line of defence was to say that betting patterns were not indicative of fixing. Yet a report of the European Sport Security Association, a group of regulated European sports betting operators formed to tackle corruption issues, had red-flagged more “suspicious alerts" in tennis than in any other sport in their books in the first quarter of 2015. Tennis had thrown up double the total alerts—divided into “unusual" and “suspicious"—than football.

What has, however, kept tennis confidently perky is that every time the ghoul of fixing pops its head up over the net, it doesn’t involve the “big players". The BBC-Buzzfeed report had focused on the details of a 2007 match between Russia’s Nikolai Davydenko and Argentina’s Martin Vassallo Argüello. Davydenko was once ranked World No.3 (in 2006) and was cleared following an ATP investigation. It may have helped that he was not a bankable star. Tennis’ closed-circuit caravan does appear to direct large energy on a tag line: Image is everything. The fixing controversy has certainly been able to focus the spotlight on tennis’ own internal image-protection racket.

Vanity Fair writer Michael Steinberger gave the BBC-Buzzfeed report a workover, arguing that tennis’ greater worry, more than fixing, was the “possibility of a steroid controversy". He quotes Federer talking about the lack of “vigilance around testing during big events", and writes that out-of-competition testing is “woefully inadequate". He cites Andre Agassi’s confession in Agassi’s book Open about lying to the ATP after a positive test for methamphetamine and going unpunished. Steinberger says that while tennis may or may not have a match-fixing problem, the “Buzzfeed/BBC claim that tennis authorities have not been nearly as energetic as they should be in policing the game rings true to many observers".

So fixing is not an issue in tennis, doping could be. Tennis is not vigilant about steroid overuse but is on high alert about fixing. Does that make sense?

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at Espncricinfo.

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