Opinion: The random manner in which the U.S. Open has applied a COVID quarantine has unfairly singled out Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic
Yesterday, the USTA enforced one of the COVID-19 rules and requirements thrust upon them by one of the health departments that the U.S. Open was forced into following – this one by the Nassau County Health Department. The requirement (that all U.S. Open players had to sign in order to play) demanded that anyone who tested positive for COVID be removed from the draw, defaulted, and required to quarantine in their hotel room (essentially what is a “bubble” in a “bubble”) for 14 days.
Prior to the tournament, Frenchman Benoit Paire tested positive for COVID, he was defaulted and went into quarantine.
This is where application of the rules gets sticky. Eleven other players were then identified as having had close contact with Paire. Most of these eleven were other French players. They were shown to have played cards for about 40 minutes with Paire in the lobby of the Nassau County hotel where they were all staying, and they were identified for some potentially draconian measures by several Health bodies and the USTA. These players included Gregoire Barrere, Ysaline Bonaventure, Damir Dzumhur, Kirsten Flipkens, Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Mahut, Adrian Mannarino, Kristina Mladenovic, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev claims that he was not one of the “Paire Eleven”, but his name has surfaced, so it’s hard to determine the true facts at this point.
The controversy arose, however, when, on Friday afternoon, Frenchman Mannarino, having survived a small test in Round Two by totally dominating Jack Sock in straight sets, was set to take on 5th seeded German Alex Zverev. The match was scheduled to go on court in mid-afternoon, at which time the umpire and ballboys were dispatched to the court. But the TV screen panned upwards and showed Zverev lying shirtless, drinking liquid from a bottle, relaxing on a chaise lounge in the viewing area of one of the court-front suites all seeds were given since there were no fans or fat cats.
After almost an hour, both the ball boys and the umpire left the court and word reached the TV booth that health officials were discussing the match with USTA officials. Later, it came out that the health officials questioned whether Mannarino should be allowed to play, since he was quarantining in his own bubble in the bubble, having committed the sin of playing cards with Paire, where they ALL wore masks. After over three hours, eventually the powers that be allowed Mannarino to play, and the two men played a spirited four-set contest in which Zverev triumphed without difficulty.
On Saturday, Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, having already had the heartbreak of a lifetime in Round Two, when, after leading 6-1, 5-1 with 4 match points against Russian Varvara Gracheva, had the wheels completely come off her game. She couldn’t cash in on one of her four match points and surrendered the second set in a tiebreaker before tossing away the third set 6-0. Needless to say, Mladenovic was heartbroken, and then had to enter her very own bubble in a bubble. Although she clearly was not a happy camper, Mladenovic recovered enough to partner with Hungary’s Timea Babos, as the tournament’s top seeded womens doubles team and won their first round match.
Preparing to play their second round match against Ally Riske and Gabriela Dabrowski, the Nassau County Health officials notified the USTA that Mladenovic would not be allowed to play her second round doubles match, and required the USTA to remove her from the draw. Following directions, the USTA defaulted Mladenovic/Babos, and chaos ensued.
Seeing that the rules were not being applied evenly and fairly, and that the USTA was in turmoil, Babos quickly caught a flight out of the country before anyone knew, and Mladenovic was required to go back to her hotel room and resume her required 14-day bubble in a bubble quarantine. She is currently unable to leave the United States until at least next Saturday.
Needless to say, Mladenovic is apoplectic, having been first defaulted, even though a Frenchman was allowed play his match, and then required to continue a quarantine that has made her feel like a prisoner. She can’t leave New York, which means that she can’t begin preparation for the clay court tournaments that begin in Europe next week, including her very own championship, The French Open. And she wonders why she was made a scapegoat when some of the very persons she played cards with remained in the draws and have been allowed to play their matches.
That's the real question in my mind: Why were the rules randomly applied to one woman, when clearly there were other players that were in the very same situation? Of the ten persons identified above, clearly Mannarino, Gasquet, Medvedev, Roger-Vasselin, and Mahut were all allowed to play matches, whether in singles or doubles, and it appears to me that the rules were not only applied randomly, but were applied to the only women left in the draw who fell into the Paire Eleven category (Flipkens had already lost in the second round of singles and the first round of doubles). To make matters more complicated, Paire subsequently tested negative to the virus, throwing into question whether the initial test was a false positive, or inaccurate in some other way.
This situation clearly begs more questions than it answers, and I believe that it will take some time until the truth comes out. Either way, I believe there will be a backlash, particularly from some European players, as there should be. If we are COVID-free for next year's Open, will it also be a French-free Open?