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U.S. Open Match Delayed as Health Officials Debate Virus Rules

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U.S. Open Match Delayed as Health Officials Debate Virus Rules

Alexander Zverev and Adrian Mannarino waited more than two hours to play their match as officials debated whether Mannarino should play given his contact with another player who tested positive for coronavirus.Adrian Mannarino was delayed in his match against Alexander Zverev as health officials debated whether it should have been played at all.Credit…Frank Franklin Ii/Associated…

U.S. Open Match Delayed as Health Officials Debate Virus Rules

Alexander Zverev and Adrian Mannarino waited more than two hours to play their match as officials debated whether Mannarino should play given his contact with another player who tested positive for coronavirus.

Credit…Frank Franklin Ii/Associated Press

Christopher Clarey

A third-round United States Open men’s singles match between Alexander Zverev and Adrian Mannarino was delayed for more than two hours on Friday as government health officials and tournament officials debated whether Mannarino should be allowed to play because of his contact with another player who tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I was told there is very little chance,” Zverev said.

But the match eventually went ahead, with the fifth-seeded Zverev advancing to the fourth round with a 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

“I was just happy they let me play,” said Mannarino, a French veteran seeded No. 32.

Mannarino is part of a group of seven players who were told to sign a revised agreement with U.S. Open organizers on Sunday to remain in the tournament after the New York health authorities deemed that they had been in close contact with Benoit Paire, a French player.

Paire tested positive for the coronavirus last Saturday and was withdrawn from the U.S. Open before it began and isolated in his room at the official hotel on Long Island.

But the group of players in close contact with Paire were allowed to continue competing after signing the stricter protocol, which required them to be tested daily for the virus instead of every four days and restricted them to their rooms unless they were training or playing.

At the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, the players were barred from all common areas open to the other players and were required to warm up and receive treatment in isolated areas.

But as Mannarino prepared to face Zverev in Louis Armstrong Stadium in a match that was not supposed to start before 2:30 p.m., he was informed by one of the ATP Tour managers that it was not certain he would be allowed to play.

Mannarino said he was told the New York state health authorities had overruled the New York City health authorities, who had approved the revised protocol that allowed him to play.

“The state took over this decision to say that I have been exposed to a positive case obviously so I should be quarantined in my room and not be able to go on the tennis court,” Mannarino said.

The United States Tennis Association declined to give details besides saying the match was delayed while a “collaborative dialogue with health officials” took place. A message seeking comment with the office of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York was not immediately returned.

A person familiar with the situation, speaking on the condition of anonymity because officials declined to release details, said that health officials raised questions about whether Mannarino should play.

Mannarino handed his coach Tom Jomby his cellphone and told him to follow the updates so he could eat and remain focused on playing his match.

“I said if I have the right to go on court, all the better, and I’ll go and give it my all, and if not, that’s the decision and we should accept it,” he said.

Novak Djokovic, the world No. 1, said he tried to help Mannarino, trying unsuccessfully to reach Cuomo.

“I understood he was the only one that could actually make the decision to revert the decision that Mannarino was withdrawn,” said Djokovic after reaching the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Jan-Lennard Struff.

At approximately 4:30 p.m., Mannarino was informed that he should be ready to go on the court at 5 p.m.

“I went into my bubble, pardon the pun, and went on court to defend my chances,” he said. “It was not an easy match, especially in these conditions, but I was all in, and I faced someone better than me today.”

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Zverev said the delay and uncertainty caused him some problems: his rackets had been strung with a higher tension in anticipation of playing in the full heat of the day. But he agreed to the delay, which he was not required to do.

“I was just kind of waiting around,” Zverev said. “I was very relaxed, and obviously for me as a player and for a fellow player, I’m happy I was able to play.”

Five French players signed the new agreement: Mannarino, Richard Gasquet, Grégoire Barrère, Édouard Roger-Vasselin and Kristina Mladenovic. So did two Belgian women’s players: Kirsten Flipkens and Ysaline Bonaventure.

All have now been eliminated from the U.S. Open except for Mladenovic, who is scheduled to play on Saturday in the round of 16 in women’s doubles with her partner, Timea Babos of Hungary.

Most of the players in close contact with Paire are required to remain in quarantine through Sept. 11. French and American authorities failed in an attempt this week to reach an agreement that would have allowed the eliminated French players to return to France in an airplane provided by the French government.

The players were initially told they would be able to continue training in New York under the stricter guidelines, with the possibility of practicing on clay before returning to Europe to play in clay-court tournaments, including the French Open, which begins in Paris on Sept. 27.

But on Friday, Flipkens said on social media that the group had been informed by the Nassau County Department of Public Health that they were no longer permitted to leave their hotel rooms.

“While just last night we got the bad news that we had to stay here until next weekend, at least they told us we still had the same protocols (practice, special gym area, separate room on site),” Flipkens wrote on Instagram. “And now all of the sudden we have to quarantine in the room?”

Djokovic, a former president of the ATP Player Council who just led the creation of a new player group, said he was not happy with the way “the situation with the French players was managed.”

He said he understood that the ATP, WTA and U.S.T.A. did not have the final word on some decisions.

“Sometimes they have to just execute what the department of New York and the City of New York orders them to do, otherwise the tournament might be compromised and canceled,” he said. “It’s not easy. I mean, sometimes I don’t want to be in the skin of people who were in the midst of this. At the same time, players I think are left with very little very information, very little power to express themselves, or fight for their own right to play and travel back home. It’s very, very strange, I must say.”

Mannarino said he only signed the new, stricter protocol on Sunday evening, on the eve of his first-round singles match.

“I didn’t sleep much,” he said after winning it against Lorenzo Sonego. “I am drained mentally.”

But he recovered sufficiently to defeat the American Jack Sock in straight sets in the second round to set up the match with Zverev.

Mladenovic, close to tears, has described the U.S. Open experience as “a nightmare” and said she had the impression “we were prisoners or criminals.”

Mannarino was much less inflammatory, stroking his stubble and speaking calmly.

“I’m not going to call it a nightmare, that’s for sure,” he said. “I’ve been playing the tournament, maybe a special tournament this time, but I’ve been allowed to play. And they put me in a situation that I could give my best on court, so I’m not going to complain about that.”

Mannarino said he expected that he would now have to return to his hotel room and remain quarantined until departing for France next week. But he expressed appreciation for those who argued on his behalf on Friday.

“I want to thank everyone who helped me be able to play today,” he said. “When they told me I might not go on court, I was a bit dejected and anxious. It would have been a shame after all that had happened.”

Matt Futterman contributed reporting.

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