The story of Sam Querrey in St. Petersburg, Russia began with what has now become a not-uncommon theme.
A COVID-19 test before the tournament began revealed a positive result. And so the veteran American was withdrawn from the ATP 500 event this week.
But after that, it became an “Escape from Russia” story, the tournament’s version of which were clarified by the St. Petersburg Open officials on Thursday.
Private jet in the wee hours
The original story, revealed by journalist Ben Rothenberg on Twitter, had Querrey – who was travelling with his wife Abby and eight-month-old baby son Ford – terrified the authorities would hospitalize them and separate them from their child.
All three were positive for the virus.
And so, per Rothenberg’s information from an unidentified source, Querrey decided to rent a private jet. He found a country that would allow the family in despite three positive tests. And the family is now secluded in an AirBNB in said undisclosed country.
Pretty good caper story.
Tournament has a different version
“The threat of the scary Russians” angle played well with a lot of people. But the tournament’s version differs in that key angle of the original tale.
(We pass no judgment on which version is the truer one; it’s likely the real story lies somewhere in between).
According to a press release on the tournament’s website, Querrey and his wife tested negative on Oct. 7, their day of arrival.
But, per ATP protocols, they were tested again four days later on Oct. 11 – the day of the men’s singles final at Roland Garros.
This time, they were positive. A second test produced the same result. By the rules of the Russian authority overseeing public events, and the ATP protocols, Querrey was withdrawn from the tournament.
He was directed to isolate for 14 days in his room at the swank tournament hotel, the Four Seasons.
Rospotrebnadzor, the “Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Well-being”, recommended that the tournament produce a medical report on the status of Querrey and his family.
And so, per the tournament’s press release, it organized a visit by a doctor and a pediatrician from a private clinic, called Sogaz.
The doctors tried twice to meet the Querreys.
On Oct. 12, they were told the baby was sleeping, and they wouldn’t open the door. On Oct. 13 (Tuesday), despite having arranged this in advance, they did not answer.
That’s because they were … outta there.
Moving to an apartment from the hotel
At some point, there was “dialogue” between Querrey and the tour manager (for this tournament, it was Pablo Juarez) – to no avail.
Upon the recommendation of the health authority, and presuming the Querrey’s were asymptomatic, the tournament claims the plan was to move the family from the hotel to a “premium-class private apartment”. That would ease the hassle of the quarantine period in one hotel room for three.
And, of course, it would assure there was no chance of potentially spreading the infection in the hotel.
(There is no mention in the tournament’s press release about what the course of action would be if they were symptomatic – which is a pretty big omission and sits at the hard of this “he said, they said” contradiction).
Querrey was scheduled for another test Thursday. But the hotel surveillance cameras recorded the family leaving the hotel at 5:45 a.m., without officially checking out. The American told the ATP tour manager that he left Russia via private plane.
It should be noted that on the tournament’s detail sheet, it’s expressly noted that the players are to follow all local guidelines.
So, what’s the real story?
The Querrey’s version, as told to Rothenberg, is that they received an “unexpected call from someone with the Russian health authorities”. That person told them that “if they were found to have symptoms they could be forced to be hospitalized”.
The version also says that the Querreys were experiencing “what they considered mild symptoms”.
The tournament’s release also states that it was the tournament itself that attempted to “organize the visit” from the doctors, not Rospotrebnadzor.
The ATP is not pleased
Needless to say, the ATP is not pleased what it termed a “serious beach of protocol relating to COVID-19”.
It sent a message to the players that said, in part, that “players and their support team members are reminded that breaches of protocol can jeopardise an event’s ability to operate and have repercussions on the rest of the Tour.”
It is investigating the situation. And the message referred to the code of conduct, which was amended in the wake of the pandemic to include potentially serious sanctions.
We have questions …
The number of positive tests have been relatively few since the resumption of the ATP Tour (and nearly non-existent on the WTA Tour side).
Notably, this week, Fabio Fognini had a positive test on the second series at another ATP tournanament in Sardinia. The wrinkle there was that between the test and the results the following day, he played a two-hour doubles match.
Fognini’s partner, Lorenzo Musetti, stayed in the tournament. He won his second-round singles match Thursday.
The laws in various countries have influenced how these cases are treated.
At the US Open, contacts of the positive Benoit Paire were required to quarantine at the tournament hotel for 14 days before being allowed to return to Europe.
In Paris, the laws were different. The authorities couldn’t force positive cases of their close contacts to isolate in place. In fact, several of them immediately left the country before the start of qualifying and flew home to quarantine there.
In Russia, obviously, things are stricter than in France.
So it remains to be seen what consequences Querrey will suffer from both the Russian authorities – and the ATP Tour itself – as a result of his early-morning fleeing.
Why bring your baby?
The other question is this: why would Querrey bring his wife and baby son on a tour of Europe?
It was clear even before the start of Roland Garros that the virus was surging in the various countries. In fact,
The diminution of the Roland Garros crowds down to 1,000 a day, and the safety protocols in place, were the first clue. So was the fact that even if the tournament mandated that players not be on the main site on days they weren’t playing, that wasn’t practically applicable.
And Paris is not … Russia.
Exposing others to three positive cases
The other issue with this early-morning escape is the number of people the Querreys potentially exposed.
Despite Rothenberg’s source asserting that the Querreys “sat in the back of their hired jet so as to keep as distant as possible from pilots,” there had to be multiple people involved in this little trip.
Putting aside the pilot(s) – were they aware of the risks, and did they sign off on that? – there might have been additional service personnel on board.
They would have had to go be transported to the airport in St. Petersburg. They would have had to go through procedures at the airport. And they would have had to go through entry process at the undisclosed arrival airport. They would have had to be transported to their AirBNB.
As well, was the owner of the AirBNB aware that his apartment is hosting three COVID-19 positive cases? You would think a complete sanitization and disinfection of the property would be required, once they leave.
And then, once their quarantine period is over, they have to get home somehow. Will they rent another private jet – with the same number of contacts involved in making that trip? Will they try to fly commercial?
Or, is Querrey planning to continue the European tour at the other ATP Tour events?
It’s all – well, it’s all rather irresponsible.
(The Instagram accounts for both Querrey and his wife are on “private” at the moment – although we don’t know if they were before all this happened).
Long European tour for Querrey
Querrey’s original plan was to include more travel, from Russia to Cologne, Germany next week, then to Vienna, Austria and then back to Paris for the Masters 1000 tournament there.
It’s a lot of airports, a lot of airplanes. And it’s a lot of potentially asymptomatic people to be around – even just for himself, never mind for his wife and a young baby.
But when asked about this by New York Times journalist Karen Crouse in Paris, Querrey said he had no concerns.
He might well feel differently now.
It’s still to be determined what the ATP’s sanctions might be – or if they’re even unforceable. If they try to go hard on him, they might find themselves in court.
As of Thursday, Querrey is still entered in the Cologne tournament next week, the Vienna qualifying the week after that and the Paris Masters.