In a turn of events that is probably a first in tennis, Morocco’s Elliot Benchetrit was beaten Monday by No. 4 seed Denis Kudla in the first round of the Australian Open qualifying.
But there’s a twist.
A major twist.
As Benchetrit tells it on his Instagram, he was down 6-4, 5-3 to Kudla when the word came back that the American had tested positive for COVID-19.
“At 5-3, they got the result. So to sum up: if I’d won that game at 5-3 to make it 5-4, I’d have qualified for the second round,” Benchetrit said.
He didn’t, and so Kudla won it 6-4, 6-3. And apparently, even though Kudla is through to the second round, he’s out of the tournament because he’ll have to isolate.
But there was a chaser coming for Benchetrit, who just changed his nationality from French to Moroccan to begin 2021.
“Now we’re waiting to see if I’m considered a close contact (of Kudla’s) or not. And if I am, it’s a double whammy. Because I lost the match, played against a positive guy, and they didn’t get the result before the match,” he said. “And on top of that, I’d have to stay a week (quarantined) in the room.”
Rule in place to complete the game
Later, Benchetrit told the Tennis Majors website he was told that the rule in place was to finish the game in progress before stopping the match. And it happened it was the last game of the match, so he was declared the winner,” he said.
“The concept of a test is to have the information up front, to not endanger the linespeople, the opponent or – quite simply – everyone the person might meet before or after their match. There also are lucky losers who are waiting for a forfeit to be able to play, who traveled there for nothing,” Benchetrit added. “The draw is compromised; there will be a player in the third round of qualifications having played just one match. That’s also the problem.”
While we don’t know if Tennis Australia had considered this kind of situation as it drew up it’s COVID protocols, it seems like the most ridiculous thing in the world.
If a player is tested the previous day, he shouldn’t be allowed on court until that test comes back. I mean, that seems only logical, right?
Timing is everything
If Benchetrit had kept that last game going through a few deuces, would the officials have come on court and stopped the match after awhile? Only if he won it, it seems.
If Michael Mmoh had taken a few more minutes, a game or two more, to get through his first-round match, which took place on the same court immediately preceding the Kudla-Benchetrit match, would the officials have stopped it before Kudla put it away?
Benchetrit told Tennis Majors that while the players are restricted to their floors in the hotel, they take the service elevator with the staff so as not to run into the other hotel guests. So that might have been how Kudla caught the virus.
“A lot of players suspect the hotel personnel, who aren’t tested as regularly as we are, of being the cause of contamination of some of the players. That’s why more and more players have tested positive,” Benchetrit said.
Before the qualifying began, two players were withdrawn after positive tests.
Third test in a week for Kudla
The virus takes time to incubate. So it’s possible Kudla could have arrived in Doha with it but tested negative – until he tested positive. But that’s highly unlikely as players had to be tested at home before leaving, and were tested again once they arrived on site. so this would have been his third test within a week.
There’s a fair bit of money at stake there, too, for someone ranked No. 221 in the world.
In the meantime, Kudla loses his shot at the Australian Open main draw.
Aussie wild card Dane Sweeny will get a free pass into the final round.