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Health concerns delay Alexander Zverev-Adrian Mannarino match


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USA TODAY

As an unexplained, lengthy wait for a men’s third-round match at the U.S. Open unfolded Friday, it sparked controversy and questions.

The match between No. 5 Alexander Zverev and No. 32 Adrian Mannarino finally started at Arthur Ashe Stadium more than three hours after it was scheduled.

While the reason for the delay was not immediately clear, the USTA released a statement after the match began that confirmed what many were thinking: It involved a health concern around a player in the “bubble within a bubble” at the Grand Slam.

“The Zverev-Mannarino match was delayed while a collaborative dialogue with health officials was conducted today. Communication with the players was ongoing during the afternoon to keep them updated at all times. Given the sensitivity of the medical issues involved, the USTA is not able to provide further details,” the statement read in full.

It is not clear if the health concern involves COVID-19.

The match was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET. The chair umpire and ballpersons finally left the court after several minutes when neither player showed. ESPN cameras caught a shirtless Zverev relaxing outside his player suite, drinking bottled water while on his phone. There was no sign of Mannarino.

The Frenchman was one of seven players on tighter restrictions after fellow countryman Benoit Paire tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed from the tournament Sunday before play began

Tournament officials conducted contact tracing to determine whether any other players were in close proximity to Paire. Seven players who came in close contact with Paire — some of whom played cards with him at a table while wearing masks — were asked to remain in a stricter bubble.

They are not allowed to leave their rooms except to practice and play their matches. They must take the stairs instead of the hotel elevator and have separate transportation to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. None of those players have tested positive for the coronavirus.

One of them, Kristina Mladenovic, said after losing her second-round match: “It’s like we are prisoners, or criminals. For even the slightest movement, we have to ask permission even though we are tested every day and had 37 negatives. It’s abominable. The conditions are atrocious.”

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The US Open health and safety plan is based on four pillars: a three-tiered personnel setup that minimizes interaction between groups; rigorous testing protocols and contact tracing capabilities; universal masking; and physical distancing. Each credential includes an RFID (radio frequency identification) code that enables health officials to trace where a person who might test positive has been, and who they might have been close to.

Players and their immediate circle (coaches, physio, guests) are in Tier I. Media, tournament staff, officials and ballpersons comprise Tier II. Tier III includes other tournament staffers in food service, security, housekeeping, outside vendors and delivery people.

“All of these (pillars) put together decrease the likelihood that someone is going to run into someone with COVID-19 symptoms,” Dr. Bernard Camins, the Medical Director for Infection Prevention for the Mt. Sinai Health Systems, and a member of the USTA Medical Advisory Group, told USA TODAY Sports. “We can’t guarantee it will be zero – nobody can do that – but by doing all this we can make sure even if someone tests positive, we can minimize the number of people who are exposed.”

Contributing: Wayne Coffey

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