Covid crisis erupts on the eve of the US Open as Benoit Paire tests positive

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A Covid-19 crisis erupted on the eve of the US Open as Benoit Paire, the 17th seed, tested positive for the disease. Organisers launched a track-and-trace programme amid fears that the infection could spread throughout the tournament hotel. Paire was said to be “asymptomatic” in a US Open statement, but the worry is that he could have been spreading Covid-19 since his arrival in New York on Aug 18. Four days later, he withdrew from his first match in the Western & Southern Open citing illness. He has been tested several times since then, and came up negative, but antibodies can sometimes take a while to develop. Kristina Mladenovic is among the French players who have been spotted playing cards with Paire, who is a notoriously social animal. Meanwhile five more compatriots – Richard Gasquet, Grégoire Barrere, Edouard Roger-Vasselin, Adrian Mannarino and coach Nicolas Copin – were told to confine themselves in their room. The United States Tennis Organisation are using tracking chips implanted in the players’ accreditation badges to try to work out who has been in contact with him. “We know it was one of the risks if you test positive or if one of your team members tests positive,” said Caroline Garcia, the French No3. “It’s one of the chances you will be out of the tournament. I think we all agreed that walking into the bubble it would be a possibility. Of course, it’s very disappointing. But this time back to the competition, it’s a little bit different and anything can happen.” “I just found out and it was like ‘Oh wow really?’” said Johanna Konta, the British No1. “It was always going to take us by surprise and be a bit shocking and worrisome if a player tested positive. The issue we have is that it’s not a full bubble and there are still some people who are working for the tournament, who are coming in and out. It doesn’t really change what I am doing on a day-to-day basis.” In any normal tournament, a lucky loser from qualifying would have been called into the draw as a replacement for Paire. But there is no qualifying event at this bio-secure US Open, so the spot has gone to Marcel Granollers, a doubles specialist from Spain. As for Paire himself, he has now been told to self-isolate in his room. This possibility has been an alarming prospect for players – notably Dan Evans, the other British No1, who told reporters that he could hardly bear to think about the possibility. “Fourteen days in the room,” said Evans, “that is disastrous stuff. That is a really difficult part of this bubble. Is that healthy to spend 14 days inside without moving and getting fresh air? I am not sure what the protocols are with that.” In Paire’s case, the USTA statement said that he had only been told to self-isolate for at least ten days, presumably because the virus will be more advanced in his case. But the statement added that “contact tracing has been initiated to determine if anyone must quarantine for 14 days”.

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