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French Fiasco Continues As Mladenovic Is Thrown Out Of U.S. Open By NY Health Officials

By Alix Ramsay

Curiouser and curiouser. Less than 24 hours after the Adrian Mannarino-Sascha Zverev fiasco on Friday, Kristina Mladenovic was dragged into the Flushing Meadows triangle.

She and Timea Babos, the top seeds in the women’s doubles, were billed to be the third match on Court 11 to play their second round match against Gabriela Dabrowski and Alison Riske. And then, all of a sudden, they vanished from the schedule and into the void. They were replaced by Denis Shapovalov and Rohan Bopanna vs Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, the No.6 seeds in the men’s doubles.

Sure enough, about 40 minutes before the No.1 seeds should have taken the court, the USTA issued another of their statements. This one, though, was a little more informative than before. And the information given was along the lines of: “Nothing to do with us, guv. We was just following orders…honest”.

The statement read: “Public health officials of Nassau County, N.Y., have issued quarantine notices for all individuals who had prolonged close contact to a person who previously tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. As the players are staying in Nassau County, the quarantine notices prevent any of these individuals from commuting to the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City. The USTA is obligated to adhere to government guidance at the State, City and County level. All persons who were identified as having prolonged close contact with the infected player will quarantine in their rooms for the remainder of their quarantine period. Kristina Mladenovic is one of these individuals, and as the Women’s Doubles competition has begun, the women’s doubles team of Kristina Mladenovic and Timea Babos has been withdrawn from the US Open.”

That was all perfectly clear except for one glaring and obvious problem: Timea Babos was, as far as anyone was aware, not a part of the group of 11 players who were in “prolonged and close contact” with Benoit Paire, the No.17 seed in the men’s draw who tested positive for Covid-19 as the US Open was about to begin.

Benoit Paire of France tested positive for Covid-19 as the US Open was about to begin.

As top seed and a three-time grand slam champion with Mladenovic, she would have expected to go deep into the doubles draw. She had already banked a half share of the $91,000 in prize money for winning the first round but there was $130,000 riding on Saturday’s match and, potentially, she could have been taking home one half of $400,000 if she and her partner won the title. Given that they won the Australian Open title in January (their second in Melbourne) and the French Open last year, it was not unthinkable that they could win in New York this summer. Why, then, was she being punished so severely? We will never know.

Mladenovic is one of the few players who has given the USTA both barrels for the way they have treated the players in the bio-bubble. When she imploded against Varvara Gracheva, letting slip a 6-1 5-1 lead to lose 1-6, 7-6 (2), 6-0, missing four match points along the way, she exploded in her press conference. She blamed much of her loss on being forced into a bubble within the bubble because she had played a game of cards with Paire.

Mladenovic has been quarantined for the remained of the U.S. Open and is out of the women’s doubles tournament.

Pointing out that it was not the USTA’s fault that she failed to convert those match points, she did describe the extreme conditions imposed upon the French players who had been in contact with Paire as “abominable”.

“The conditions are atrocious,” Mladenovic told Reuters. “If I had known that playing cards for 40 minutes with a player who tested positive, but ultimately negative, would have resulted in these consequences, I would never have set foot in this tournament.”

The French players are a convivial bunch; they will often socialise when they are at the same tournament. But while we know that 11 players are in the “France’s 11” Covid “bubble within a bubble”, we do not know who they are (thanks, USTA, for that).

Which means that as Corentin Moutet, the world No.77 from France, stepped out on to Court 17, you had to wonder whether he was a friend and card-playing pal of Benoit Paire or, more importantly, just a decent player in the third round facing Felix Auger-Aliassime. TV wanted that match; the USTA wanted Felix on court and, unlike the women’s doubles, it meant rather a lot to the bean counters.

The US Open may be playing out behind closed doors and with the world’s media being kept at arm’s length in a “virtual press room” but the truth will out. Eventually. Yet if the USTA was open, honest and up front with every development, none of these questions would ever have been asked.