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Tennis News • French Player Benoit Paire Caught In Covid Testing Chaos Again

By Alix Ramsay

Benoit Paire is out of the Hamburg Open. The Frenchman pulled out of his first round match against Casper Ruud at a set and a break down, exhausted mentally and physically after a month of Covid confusion.

On the eve of the US Open, Paire tested positive for coronavirus and was promptly withdrawn from the tournament. The No.17 seed spent the next 10 days in quarantine in his hotel room until he tested negative and was allowed to return to France.

When he got home, he tested negative again so headed to Rome. Once there, he again tested negative and played in both singles and doubles. Without much by way of practice time prior to getting on court he lost early in both draws but he was back on court so all was well.

He then went to Hamburg but his test there came back positive. In Germany, though, he was allowed to play even if he was expected to stay in his room when he was not actually on court. But after a set and a bit on Wednesday, he had had enough. He was losing, he was tired and he did not have the mental puff to fight on.

Now he will go to Roland Garros and undergo yet another test – and if that comes up positive, he will draw a line under his season and go home.

Never the calmest of characters, he just sounded spent as he explained the complexities of his situation. No fury, no fireworks; just a man weighed down by the differing approaches of different authorities to a virus nobody understands. And a man utterly confused by it all.

“Positive Corona in US Open,” he said wearily. “10 days in my room. So I have to go to Rome; I play but I didn’t practice at all so I participate a little bit and after with a doubles match then I come here and I’m positive.

“But the rule is different here in Germany and I say thank you to the doctor and to the tournament – they let me play – but I couldn’t leave my room. Only one hour for my practice and then I have to go back to my room, dinner in my room, lunch in my room.

“So, for me, life is not like this on tour. I think if it’s to be like this, I prefer to be at home and to enjoy with my family than to stay in my room for 23 hours [especially] after US Open, 10 days in a row. And I’m tired. It’s not easy to stay and go and do some practice, only one hour, then back in your room, stay in your bed. I think it’s impossible to play tennis like this. So I try because I’m happy to be on court but I’m tired; I can’t move so I have to stop.”

He has already told the organisers at Roland Garros about his situation and has been told by the doctors that he has a 50 per cent chance of testing positive there, too. That leaves him in limbo – where he has been for weeks.

When he left New York, he thought he was done with Covid. The negative test that allowed him to fly home was proof positive (as it were) that he was over the bug and he was free to get back to work. Now, it seems, traces of the virus are still in his system and while he is no longer contagious, those traces could be enough to get him thrown out of Roland Garros. But they were not enough to stop him playing in Hamburg.

“The only thing I know is that I was negative after the US Open,” he said, “negative in France, negative in Rome and positive in Hamburg. That’s the only thing I know. It’s tough to understand for me.

“When you arrive here, they say OK, you’re going to practice and you have to stay in your room because you’re positive again. I really don’t understand.

“Honestly, for me, it’s not easy at this time. When I talked to the doctors in France, they told me I have a 50 per cent chance to be positive in Paris because I have some [trace] of the virus but what can I say? Every night, I sleep and they tell me maybe you’re positive, maybe you’re negative, maybe you play maybe you don’t play, maybe you can go out of your room, maybe not, so for me my life is not interesting at this time. The only thing I want is just finish the season and to go home. That’s the only thing I want.”

Petar Popovic, the coach of Damir Dzumhur, seems to be caught up in the same chaotic mess. He contracted Covid earlier in the summer and has now recovered. Yet when he had his pre-tournament test before the start of qualifying at Roland Garros, his results were positive again. And as he was sharing a room with Dzumhur, not only was he banned from the grounds but so was Dzumhur (who, just to muddy the waters further, tested negative). Dzumhur is now threatening to sue the French Tennis Federation for preventing him from playing.

The fact that Paire was allowed to play with a positive test in Hamburg and Dzumhur was not allowed to play in Paris with a negative test is baffling to Paire. It is baffling to most of the players. And the Frenchman just wants someone to make a clear and consistent rule that will allow the players to get on with their lives.

“I’m pissed about what happened now but what can I do?” he said. “The only thing I want is some explanation about the rules. Because I saw that if you are positive once, you are out of the tournament. But not in Germany. So why we don’t do the same everywhere? Or we have a rule for international tennis players? I don’t know, but we can’t stay like this.

“When I talk with the other players, they are all tired. They are tired about the tests, about what happened on tour, about what we have to do, about what happened now in the French Open – a lot of positive tests – about Popovic who is the coach of Dzumhur, but he has antibody so, honestly, I don’t know. The only thing I want is end of the season, go home, practice and I hope next year will be normal.”

So far, six people have tested positive in Paris and there are reports of a less than secure bio-bubble around the tournament. Some players were allowed to practice on site before the results of their first test came through, others went off into town for dinner before their results were confirmed. It is not the same lockdown environment as was created at the US Open but, then, it was never likely to be given the location of Roland Garros and the size and geography of Paris.

What Paire would like to see most of all is a trusted protocol for the players and coaches who have had Covid. After all, the chicken pox virus you had as a kid can lie dormant in your system for years and years and then come back as shingles. But it doesn’t mean that you spend the rest of your life infecting people with chicken pox. The virus is there but you are not contagious. Paire wants tennis to recognise that the same appears to be true of Covid.

“I think [it should be] like in Germany: if you are positive, OK, you have to do the quarantine,” he said. “And if you do the positive quarantine, after there is no test.

“It’s the same in Germany’s Bundesliga: if you are positive and you do the quarantine, after they don’t test you again because you are not contagious for the other guys. So, I think that’s a good solution.

“All people who get the virus, why do we do a test? If we are not contagious and everybody know we are not contagious, why we have to do the test? If you have the virus in you and you don’t give to the other players, I think it’s OK. You can play.

“But they have to make a rule for everybody and a rule where everybody have a chance to play. Not only the lucky guys who are negative.”