So what are we to make of the sudden death of Mathieu Montcourt, the 24-year-old French tennis star who was found dead in the hallway outside of his Paris apartment on Tuesday? The tennis world is still in shock over the sudden demise of the world’s 119th-ranked player, who came up through the junior ranks with world No. 2-ranked Rafael Nadal, and who had just begun a suspension by the Association of Tennis Professionals for gambling on matches.
Montcourt had been banned for eight weeks in August of last year for betting on matches — although none of them his own — by the ATP; a sentence that was reduced by two weeks on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in May. Montcourt was also fined $12,000 after it was found that he gambled sums totaling $192 on 36 games, in 2005.
That’s a miniscule amount of money in the grand scheme of things — hardly worth the bother — especially considering the landscape these days. But take the unexpected death of a 24-year-old pro athlete, and add the terms “gambling” and “unknown circumstances,” and it’s going to raise eyebrows. Especially since police have said that there was no indication that Montcourt had been attacked.
The Paris-born Montcourt, who was the 19tranked player in France, had begun his ban by the ATP on Monday. Police said that Montcourt was found by his girlfriend in front of the door to their flat. An autopsy is due to be carried out on Wednesday.
Nadal, the four-time French Open champion who often played Montcourt as a junior, was stunned by the news.
“This morning I woke up with one of the worst bits of news anyone can receive,” Nadal said. “I heard about the death of our friend Mathieu Montcourt. I am still under shock for this. I can’t believe it. I knew Mathieu since we were kids. We competed together.”
Montcourt had won $81,418 so far this year and played his last match in the semifinals of a Challenger Tour clay court event in Rijeka, Croatia. He had earned more than $374,000 since turning professional in 2002. He was eliminated in the second round of the French Open in May by Radek Stepanek in four sets.
From Nikolay Davydenko to this year’s Wimbledon and with many points in between, tennis has suffered more than its share of gambling controversies. The sport certainly doesn’t need another one (and no one’s speculating that this even qualifies). Bigger picture, though, is the tragic, unexplained death of a 24-year-old star, which is hard to take no matter what the circumstances.