Argentina’s Guido Pella arrived in New York 2 1/2 weeks ago, ready to go to work after a training block in Miami and take on the Western & Southern Open and US Open.
He ended up living a version of COVID tennis hell.
First he was withdrawn from “Cincy” after his trainer, Juan Galván, tested positive for the virus.
The two weren’t sharing a room, but they had been in fairly extensive physical contact in Miami before arriving. The same was true for his friend and fellow player Hugo Dellien of Bolivia.
For the next two weeks, Pella was unable to practice and prepare properly. And so it wasn’t a shocker that the No. 29 seed went down in four sets to American wild card J.J. Wolf.
Dellien managed just seven games against an in-form Marton Fucsovics, who had plenty of match play in the bubble coming into the match.
Here’s what Pella had to say in the English portion of his post-match Zoom conference Tuesday night.
Needless to say, he was out of sorts about the whole saga.
Here’s what he had to say.
COVID-19 contingency plans in motion
Before the US Open bubble came to life, The USTA confidently announced that it had game-planned various contingencies in the case of a positive COVID-19 test.
We now know what it looks like.
They seem to have learned as they go. And, if you listen to Pella, not all players (and their countries) are created equal.
Pella didn’t say it straight out Tuesday night, but he certainly inferred that a big group of players from a Grand Slam nation were not judged by the same standards as a couple of lowly guys from South America.
The two cases, of course, are not quite equal.
Monday night, France’s Adrian Mannarino talked about what it was like, after he was designated to enter the US Open’s “bubble within a bubble”.
Mannarino had contact with friend and countryman Benoit Paire, who tested positive for COVID-19 and was withdrawn from the tournament.
The biggest contrast was that unlike Pella and Dellien, the players targeted through the contract tracing were not pulled out of the tournament.
To be fair, their contact was significantly less than that of Pella and Dellien with Galván.
No wiggle room for Pella
In their case, there was room to maneuver. In Pella’s case there appeared to be none.
The other element of this that couldn’t help but play a role is that, in contrast to two players being out of warmup tournament, the Paire situation could have had as many as a dozen affected.
Pella and Dellian both lost their first-round US Open matches in rather expedient fashion, after two weeks of travails.
Mannarino, Kristina Mladenovic, Richard Gasquet the the Belgian WTA Tour players Ysaline Bonaventure and Kirsten Flipkens all won their first-round matches, although most were not as fortunate in round 2.
Mannarino was one of the fortunate, defeating a physically diminished Jack Sock in straight sets Wednesday to reach the third round.
Afterwards, he could even joke that his hotel room looked like a tornado hit it – that it looked like one a teenaged boy would bunker down in. He said there was still food detritus from … Saturday hanging around.
Mladenovic hits wall in 2nd round
Mladenovic, who had match points in her second-round match, admitted that she had completely crumbled.
Per l’Équipe, she said she had never been in that kind of state of distress, and that they’d been living a “nightmare” with the extra restrictions – the result of sitting at a table and playing cards with Paire for 40 minutes.
She will grant you, however, that it wasn’t the USTA’s fault that she failed to convert on four match points.
Multiple tests for Paire
Pella makes a good point about the re-tests. Fiven there’s always a possibility of a false positive, the consequences to other people in that case are significant.
He said they even asked if they could buy the tests, or have them done by another laboratory at their own expense. And were turned down.
He said he was told that the NY health department did not allow for an immediate re-test. And certainly, in the Q&A distributed to players before the tournament, that is indicated.
From what we’ve been told, Paire had three tests – all positive – in all, including the initial positive test. But we’re not 100 per cent sure of the timing of them – they were definitely within a limited timeframe, though.
How much contact is too much?
The tricky part of the equation is the grey area between having a hotel roommate test positive – and someone in your entourage, but with whom you’re not sharing a room.
If your roomie tests positive – you’re out.
But if they’re not sharing a room – well, it’s … complicated.
The way most players seem to have interpreted that clause was in its best-case scenario – that if the positive test wasn’t a roommate, they were safe. Most say this is “what they were told.”
But unless there was additional information not included in the Q&A, “not necessarily” is a fairly nebulous thing.
Ultimately, it depends on how honest the players are about how much contact they may have had with the infected person. And on the judgment of health authorities.
If the French or other players, hypothetically, insisted that they had their masks on at all times when they were socializing together even if they weren’t – it would probably take video to prove otherwise.
Watching their every move
As Mannarino laid out during his press conference on Monday, the players are being followed everywhere, restricted from most places – and, notably, likely are not getting the practice they need – especially if their doubles partner is not one of the “watch” group.
But at least they can still practice somewhere on site, on the US Open courts late in the day.
And at least they’re still in the tournament – even if the parameters keep … evolving.
In Pella’s case, he talked about having to drive some 35 minutes to get to tennis courts that resembled the US Open courts in dimensions only. And even then, not until several days had passed.
In addition to not getting any match play at all in the “Cincy” event after he was withdrawn, that clearly didn’t help Pella’s prospects in his first round against Wolf.
New waiver required
What will be the next shoe to drop? We shudder to think.