You might think Kristina Mladenovic would have been nothing but delighted on Monday after winning her first match in the first Grand Slam tennis tournament since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted tennis.
But her mood was much more mixed.
“We got some bad news two days ago, and since then I’ve been living in a nightmare,” Mladenovic, who is seeded 30th, said after defeating Hailey Baptiste, an 18-year-old American, at the United States Open.
After Mladenovic’s French compatriot Benoît Paire tested positive for the virus and was withdrawn from the tournament and isolated in the official hotel, several other players in the field, including Mladenovic, Adrian Mannarino and the French doubles specialist Édouard Roger-Vasselin, were determined by tournament health officials to have had close contact with Paire.
But instead of being forced to withdraw, those players were asked to sign a revised agreement to remain in the U.S. Open. Mannarino, a Frenchman who also won his first-round match on Monday, said he had only signed on Sunday evening. “I didn’t sleep much,” he said. “I am drained mentally.”
The agreement, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times, requires players to submit to daily coronavirus testing instead of being tested every four days, like the rest of the players. It also strictly limits their movements and behavior inside the controlled environment that has been established at the tournament site and player hotel — with even greater restrictions than those already imposed on all players.
Players who sign the new document are required to stay in their hotel rooms unless traveling to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, and they no longer have access to common areas.
No visitors are permitted in their rooms. At the tennis center, access to locker rooms and dining areas is prohibited, and the players who sign the agreement must use separate fitness, training and warm-up areas — and only by appointment.
They will still have access to their designated practice court or match court.
“It’s literally a bubble in a bubble,” Mladenovic said.
The players who sign the revised protocol are also required to “strictly adhere” to the requirement to wear masks at all times “both indoors and outdoors, which also includes isolation areas.”
Though the names of the players who have signed the agreement have not been released publicly, the majority are French, according to a tennis official familiar with the list. L’Equipe, a French newspaper, reported that other players determined to have close contact with Paire include the French men’s players Richard Gasquet and Grégoire Barrère.
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Mladenovic said she practiced once with Paire for an hour in New York. “Obviously we were on opposite sides of the court,” she said. She said she also spent “30 to 45 minutes” in the hotel lobby playing cards with a group of people that included Paire.
“I didn’t spend much time with him, to be honest,” she said. “I think all in all, it was like an hour and a half, so I kind of feel very unlucky there. Apparently the practice doesn’t count, and it’s just the fact I spent 30 minutes with him being part of that big table of people and of course we had masks on.”
Mladenovic said she had tested negative twice since Paire’s positive test.
“It’s tough for me to accept the thing because it’s not like I’m any close entourage with him, but I feel very sorry and bad for him,” she said.
Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director, confirmed that the group of players had been allowed to play on.
“As soon as a positive test happens, the infected person is immediately isolated,” she told ESPN on Monday. “And then the discussion is around who have they been with, what setting, for how long, wearing a mask or not a mask, what distance? And our doctors gathered that information quickly.”
Allaster said the decision for the new protocols was made in concert with New York City health officials.
In an Instagram post on Monday evening, Paire said: “I am doing well for now and I don’t have symptoms. I hesitate to tell you what is really happening in this FAKE BUBBLE.”
Allaster said there was no way to determine how and when Paire might have caught the virus. “We will never know,” she said. “It’s definitely in his system. He’s been isolated. Everyone else is isolated from him, and he’s asymptomatic and is being taken care of.”
The decision to offer players the option to sign the revised agreement raises the question of why Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien were not offered the same option when their fitness trainer, Juan Manuel Galván, tested positive for the virus before the Western & Southern Open, a tournament that preceded the U.S. Open at the same site.
Pella, an Argentine, was withdrawn from the main draw; Dellien, a Bolivian, from the qualifying tournament. Both were required to quarantine for 14 days at the player hotel. Neither tested positive for the virus before or during that period. They were gradually allowed more freedom of movement, including the ability to practice on court. Both are expected to play in the U.S. Open starting Tuesday.
“It seems if they let the French play, they should have done the same for Guido and Hugo,” Juan Ignacio Londero, an Argentine, said after his first-round victory on Monday. “It’s not that I don’t want the French to play, but it seems a bit unfair, that’s all.”