The tennis world has been left demanding answers after players reportedly in contact with Benoit Paire have been granted the go ahead to compete in the US Open and remain in the bubble.
France's Benoit Paire tested positive for COVID-19 and pulled out of the US Open, which started on Monday (Tuesday AEST).
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Paire, seeded 17th at the Grand Slam event, was scheduled to play Poland’s Kamil Majchrzak in the first round at Flushing Meadows on Tuesday.
But the fiery Frenchman didn’t take the news well after directing a huge accusation that the US Open bubble, to protect players from the coronavirus, was ‘fake’.
Benoit Paire: "I'm fine for now I have no symptoms .. I hesitate to tell what is really going on in this Fake Bubble" https://t.co/aeOYzQqSef— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) August 31, 2020
"I'm fine for now I have no symptoms .. I hesitate to tell what is really going on in this Fake Bubble,” he wrote on his Instagram.
But USTA spokesperson Chris Widmaier alleged Paire had not been “adhering” to the safety protocols at the time.
But despite Paire’s withdrawal, it emerged he had been in close contact with other players inside the bubble.
US Open tournament director Stacey Allaster also confirmed the cluster of players would be allowed to compete, unlike the case with Guido Pella and Hugo Dellien, who were removed from the Western & Southern Open last week when their physiotherapist tested positive for the virus.
Instead, they've been asked to sign new waivers that restrict them from accessing certain areas on-site and at the tournament hotel
The decision appears at odds with the US Open's protocols that dictate a player be quarantined for 14 days if they have come in close contact with an individual who has tested positive. But Allaster insists the rules have been followed to a tee.
Players in US Open ‘bubble within a bubble’
An AP report suggested up to seven players in contact with Paire were placed in a bubble ‘within a bubble’.
Three players from France acknowledged their involvement: Kristina Mladenovic, who is seeded 30th in women’s singles; Adrian Mannarino, seeded 32nd in men’s singles; and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, who is entered in men’s doubles.
Fifth seed Alexander Zverev hit out at the USTA and said he found out about Paire on social media.
Aussie Ellen Perez, who went to college in the US and is partnering fellow Australian Storm Sanders in the women's doubles at Flushing Meadows, is deeply concerned and warned of potential class action against officials if there was an outbreak at the slam.
"The new protocols are misleading, disrespectful and wrong," Perez posted on social media on Tuesday.
"You're sending the message you can be close contact to a positive person and be fine to play and be around others.
"How can one week you enforce the correct strict rules and the next week you not. You run a dangerously thin line with this.
"If any of those close contacts turn back an eventual positive test after having played I hope everyone takes action against these reckless and dangerous protocols.
Rothenberg also reported Mannarino, one of the players inside the second bubble, was struggling with the incident.
"I haven't been sleeping much...I've been thinking a lot." -Adrian Mannarino on the stress of having spent time with Benoit Paire. #USOpen— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 31, 2020
After the first day of the US Open kicked off, American Hailey Baptiste faced Kristina Mladenovic.
But it was reported the American was unaware her opponent was a player in ‘a bubble within a bubble’.
This prompted leading tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg to suggest players who were up against rivals who potentially should be quarantining needed to become aware of the situation.
Hey, #USOpen, if you're letting players who should be quarantining on the court to compete, the LEAST you could do is to give their opponent a heads up so that they can try to be more cautious.— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) August 31, 2020
Or, honestly, let the opponent demand a forfeit if s/he is uncomfortable with it. https://t.co/7yNtlpzhw1
Others also took to social media to describe the incident as a ‘fiasco’.
Hard to imagine some other players are not going to be withdrawn from the US Open after the contact tracing on Benoit Paire is complete. He's a social person & a card player. But what's clear is that the USTA will have had something like this in its scenarios. They modeled many pic.twitter.com/HiThAfEpV8— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) August 30, 2020
This whole Benoit Paire fiasco is already threatening to overshadow the tournament itself. Testing times, it is clear that several players should now have to withdraw, such as Medvedev. Why hasn't it happened yet? There can't be exceptions. #usopen— wtaaddict (@wtaaddict) August 31, 2020