US Open kicks off in anguish over coronavirus

Germany's Angelique Kerber in her US Open first round match against Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic on Monday in New York.

Benoît Paire’s positive coronavirus control, twenty-four hours before the start of the US Open (August 31 – September 13), raised the specter of the Adria Tour, the controversial tour of exhibition matches in the Balkans in which Novak Djokovic and other stars of world tennis had been infected. L’Avignonnais, which was due to start on Tuesday 1er September against the Polish Kamil Majchrzak (108e), was immediately removed from the main draw of the New York Grand Slam and will have to observe a ten-day quarantine period in his hotel room, under the care of a member of security. He is the first player, men and women alike, to be deprived of participation even before the start of the tournament.

According to The team, four other French players, Richard Gasquet, Grégoire Barrère, Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Adrian Mannarino, were also confined as a precaution. Their greetings came from tournament director Stacey Allaster: “We keep all the players in the competition”, she declared Monday a few hours before the start of the event.

The contamination of Benoît Paire above all reveals the porosity of the health bubble set up in Flushing Meadows by the organizers of the US Open, in which the French player was nevertheless (23e world) from the Masters 1000 in Cincinnati (August 20 to 28), relocated to New York.

The United States Tennis Federation (USTA) nevertheless wanted to be irreproachable in the implementation of an airtight health protocol, a sine qua non for the resumption of a sport stopped since early March due to coronavirus – the men’s circuit resumed on August 20 in Cincinnati, the women’s circuit in early August in Palermo.

Tests, wearing a mask …

In addition to the imposed closed session, the players are subjected to regular tests, the first four days before the start of the tournament. If one of the participants is positive, he will be removed from the table, as for Benoît Paire. If he has been in close contact with someone who has contracted the virus, he will also be excluded from the tournament, a measure imposed by the New York State Department of Health. This is what happened to Argentine Guido Pella and Bolivian Hugo Dellien at the Cincinnati tournament, who are wrong to share the same physical trainer – the latter’s test will ultimately be negative.

Wearing a mask is also compulsory – except in matches or in training, see the USTA – in the bubble, between the grounds of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center and the two hotels requisitioned 30 km from the courts . Gone are the days of individual cars, as players’ travel is also provided in buses filled to half their capacity.

Strict compliance with this health system will be ensured by around forty surveillance agents who will ensure that everyone (players, organizers and staff, etc.) follows the standards of physical distancing. Thus the changing rooms, like that of the Arthur-Ashe stadium – the central court – which can normally accommodate up to 300 people, are limited to 30 and only accessible to players, for a maximum of fifteen minutes. The male and female seeds (64 in total) see themselves open access to the boxes to prepare. A cleaning and disinfection of the premises will take place every day and at regular intervals, promises the USTA.

“A sport very vulnerable to this virus”

Other strong measures against Covid-19, no linesman will be present on the courts – replaced by Hawk-Eye technology – and the ball collectors, masked, are instructed not to touch either the players’ towels or their bring drinks. Nothing should, according to the American Federation, allow the coronavirus to mortgage the chances of organizing the first Grand Slam of the year, after the postponement of Roland Garros (from September 21 to October 11) and the cancellation of Wimbledon .

“Tennis is a sport very vulnerable to this virus”, notes the former French player Nicolas Escudé. “It’s a kind of caravan with players of multiple nationalities that travels around the world from week to week”, adds the one who is now consultant for the Eurosport channel, according to whom this explains why “Tennis is one of the last major sports to take over.”

At the US Open, any breach of health protocol without the written consent of the chief medical officer or the tournament director will be immediately sanctioned with exclusion from the tournament and a fine.

Many players have preferred not to take any risks. In the women’s table, only four members of the Top 10 made the trip to New York; Australian Ashleigh Barty and Romanian Simona Halep, respectively world number one and two, have withdrawn. Among men, seven Top 10 players responded, but the American Grand Slam will have to do without Rafael Nadal (2e world), defending champion, and Gaël Monfils (9e), whose absences come in addition to that of Swiss Roger Federer, who ended his season to treat his right knee. Some tennis observers are already talking about a US Open at a discount. The organizers hope that the coronavirus does not come out as the big winner of the New York fortnight.

Read also US Open debates reflect divisions in world tennis


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