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Sports News

Tennis: Players frustrated to be in "bubble within a bubble" after positive COVID-19 test

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A number of competitors at the U.S. Open have expressed their frustration after they were moved into a so-called “bubble within a bubble” as they had been in contact with Frenchman Benoit Paire, who tested positive for COVID-19.

Signage bearing the words "Black Lives Matter" is seen inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on day one of the U.S. Open tennis tournament in the Queens borough of New York City, U.S., August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Amy Tennery

Tournament organisers quietly removed Paire from the draw on Sunday, with the Frenchman later confirming on social media that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

French players Adrian Mannarino, Kristina Mladenovic and Edouard Roger-Vasselin were subsequently placed under an “enhanced protocol plan” for “players who might have been potentially exposed” to the virus, allowing them to continue competing in the tournament instead of withdrawing.

However, this has meant they have been barred from using any on site player facilities.

Mannarino, who defeated Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego 6-1 6-4 2-6 6-3 on Monday, said the ATP had contacted him on Saturday night to say he needed to stay in his room as a player had tested positive for COVID-19. On Sunday evening, he was told he would be allowed to compete but under a stricter protocol.

“I’m wondering at the moment if I might have the virus or not,” he told reporters. “I’ve been tested every day since we had the news and I’m going to be tested every day.”

He said the experience had caused him sleepless nights and left him mentally exhausted. Mannarino added that he was relieved his close friend Paire was not experiencing any symptoms.

“We’re not 100% (sure) that (Paire) got the virus here but that’s a big probability because he’s been here for a while now, he’d tested negative many times,” Mannarino said.

Mannarino said they had played cards together during their time on site and estimated Paire had contact with “probably half of the draw”.

‘MENTALLY VERY TOUGH’

The incident echoes challenges leagues across North America have faced bringing sports back in the COVID-19 era, amid an outbreak that has killed more than 180,000 people in the U.S.

A spokesperson for the USTA told Reuters it built the “enhanced protocol plan” in consultation with the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. While the USTA declined to comment on the identity of the player who tested positive, the spokesman said contact tracing had begun to “determine all of the player’s movements and interactions.”

Mladenovic complained that she now felt like she was stuck inside a “bubble within a bubble”. Those who had been in contact with Paire are being tested for COVID-19 every day rather than every four days.

The Frenchwoman, who beat American Hailey Baptiste 7-5 6-2, said the enhanced protocols made it “very tough” to compete.

“I’m allowed to play my match, literally allowed to do nothing else. I don’t know how we’ll keep going,” she said.

“It’s mentally very tough, I still have to find a way and discuss with the USTA and organise things in order for me to be at least competitive and have equipment to keep working.”

She said she has tested negative twice since the news broke and had not spent much time with Paire prior to his positive COVID-19 test.

“Just the fact that I spent 30 minutes with him being part of that big table of people and of course we had masks on,” she said. “It’s pretty tough for me to accept that.”

Mannarino, however, pointed out that the standards set in place at the hardcourt major did not constitute a bubble at all. He noted that accredited personnel go in and out of the grounds regularly.

Unlike the NBA “bubble” at Walt Disney World, where players, coaches and members of the media live on site, tennis players at the Open have the option of living in private housing outside of the tournament hotels.

“Here at the U.S. Open, we’re not in a bubble we’re in a safe environment - which is different,” Mannarino said.

Reporting by Amy Tennery in New York; additional reporting by Rohith Nair and Simon Jennings, editing by Pritha Sarkar

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