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TennisBalls Balls Bounce And Bubbles Burst • U.S.Open 2020

By Alix Ramsay

The bubble has been burst. We are just easing into the first round of the bio-secure US Open and yet the Covid-free environment has been breached. Benoit Paire, the No.17 seed, tested positive for the virus before a ball had been struck in earnest in New York and now everyone is on tenterhooks to see who else may fall foul of the testers’ swab sticks.

The USTA is tracking and tracing like bloodhounds on speed trying to find out who Paire may have infected and their problem is that the Frenchman is a sociable sort. He has been mixing with his countrymen and women, he has been relaxing with his peers….who has been close to and who has picked up his bug?

Benoit Paire of France.

Kristina Mladenovic is one of those who have been around and about Paire – she practiced alongside him and played cards with him over the weekend – and now she, like 10 others, has been put in a ‘bubble with the bubble’. What does that mean? It means that her limited life in the bio-bubble has become even more restricted.

“Let’s make it simple: I’m allowed to play my match; literally, not allowed to do anything else,” she said. “I am basically in a new ‘bubble in the bubble,’ so there’s not very much I’m allowed to do, which makes it tough for me to compete and mentally be kind of fresh and ready.

“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to keep going, I’m not allowed to do fitness or any public bubble thing. I’m not allowed to do anything anymore, I’m completely on my own with my brother-coach so it’s literally a bubble in a bubble.

“I’m literally seeing no one else. I’m not allowed in any facilities that have been put in place for the players so it’s mentally very tough.

‘I still have to find a way and discuss with the USTA how we can organise things in order for me to be at least competitive and have equipment to keep working. My match is on Wednesday so there’s lots of time until then so hopefully I can be in the best conditions for that.’

Kristina Mladenovic of France.

‘I practised on the same court and spent maybe 30 or 45 minutes with Benoit. I played cards with a few different people. Apparently, it’s because I spent that time at the table. I feel very unlucky. It’s pretty hard to accept.’

Even so, she still managed to get the better of Hailey Baptiste of the United States 7-5, 6-2 on Monday. That was a major step forward but the new rules do not bode well for the future as she is tested daily for signs of the dreaded bug.

She can only socialise with her coach, she must use specified cars to get to and from the site (no hopping on the shuttle bus that runs every 15 minutes to nip home for a bit of R and R) and she cannot even use the lifts on site. Short of having someone walk in front of her ringing a bell and yelling “Unclean! Unclean!” she could not be more isolated and stigmatised. But this is the new normal everyone that has to adapt to.

The old normal, though, was still very much in evidence. As the fan-free Open lurched into life, the biggest match of the day was Kevin Anderson against Alexander Zverev: the huge bloke with the huge serve against the slightly less huge bloke with the huge number of double faults. But for all his faults, double or otherwise, Sascha has Kev’s number.

Coming into the Open, Zverev had a 5-0 lead over Big Kev. But after his dismal serving performance against Andy Murray last week at the Western and Southern Open (Murray played well but 11 doubles in three sets cost the German dear), no one knew what to expect.

Alexander Zverev of Germany hits a reutrn to Kevin Anderson of South Africa during their match on the first day of the US Open Tennis Championships.

Sure enough, the first double fault came after four minutes and was closely followed by the second. Bizarrely, the less pressure he was under, the more Zverev’s serve became a liability. No matter, he was better in most other departments and got the job done 7-6, 5-7, 6-3, 7-5 and now plays Brandon Nakashima of the United States, the world No. 223, for a place in the third round.

Meanwhile, back on Brit watch, Cam Norrie pulled off the first upset of the tournament by beating the No.9 seed, Diego Schwartzman, 3-6, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1 7-5. Between them the two men shared 58 break points (Cam won 11 of 31; Diego won eight of 27) and even if the Argentine was not playing his best tennis, it was still a great result for Norrie, the world No.76, to come back from two sets down, saving two match points, in the four hour encounter. He now plays Federico Coria, the world No.103 from Argentina.

Cameron Norrie of Great Britain pulls the first upset of the tournament, beating the 9 seed Diego Schwartzman on the first day of the US Open Tennis Championships.

“I was just real happy that I stayed patient and didn’t snap too much,” Norrie said. “I think I could have easily snapped at missing that many returns, especially against a guy [who doesn’t have] a huge serve. I think my attitude won it for me today… sometimes you’ve got to win ugly, I think.

“It’s nice to be part of that and it shows that it was just two dogs out there battling with no serves really. It was a good match.”

And, as far as anyone knows, neither of the two dogs is besties with Benoit Paire so they are still free to walk around the bio-bubble and use the lifts.

Blimey, this is going to be a long two weeks.