The tennis world was sent into a frenzy when the US Open third-round match between France’s Adrian Mannarino and fifth seed Alexander Zverev was inexplicably delayed at Flushing Meadows on Saturday (AEDT).
The pair were supposed to take to Louis Armstrong Stadium around 2.30pm local time in New York but two hours passed without any sign of the players or information about when the match would start.
Zverev was passing the time chilling shirtless in his suite when everybody expected him to be on the court.
The strange sight — and lack of clarification from tournament organisers — sparked speculation about the reason behind the delay.
Only after the match had started did the US Tennis Association (USTA) provide a vague statement in response to the confusion.
“The Zverev-Mannarino match was delayed with a collaborative dialogue with health officials was conducted today,” the USTA said. “Communication with the players was ongoing during the afternoon to keep them updated at all times.
“Given the sensitivity of the medical issues involved, the USTA is not able to provide further details.”
Earlier, ESPN reported the stalemate was because of “political issues” related to the forced quarantine of some players after Frenchman Benoit Paire was withdrawn from the US Open following a positive COVID-19 test just before the tournament started.
Mannarino was one of several players put under enhanced safety protocols earlier this week after his countryman tested positive. The regulations saw stars who had contact with Paire — and have already been knocked out of the grand slam — forced to quarantine in their rooms.
Up to 11 players were subjected to the toughened measures. They were to be tested every day, rather than every four days, and were only allowed to leave their hotel room to travel to the US National Tennis Centre.
Previously they had been allowed in communal areas.
Paire left the tournament questioning the protocols put in place in New York. “I’m fine for now I have no symptoms … I hesitate to tell what is really going on in this Fake Bubble,” Paire wrote on Instagram on Monday.
Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens provided some insight on the “bubble in the bubble” courtesy a post on her Instagram story early Saturday morning.
“Just got the news we are ORDERED from the Nassau county department of health to stay in our room,” she wrote.
“While just last night we got the bad news 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 …) to follow as before.
“And now all of a sudden we have to quarantine in the room?”
ESPN’S Chris Fowler reported New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “might have gotten involved” in the bizarre situation, while tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg alluded to the possibility this whole drama was related to Paire.
“Mannarino is one of the ‘Paire 11’, losers of which have now been confined to their hotel rooms,” he tweeted. “Something is happening.”
The father of Greek star Stefanos Tsitsipas also looked confused as he waited in the stands, his son scheduled to play Borna Coric on Louis Armstrong Stadium after Zverev’s match.
Tennis writer Nikhila Makker said the lack of clarity made for “absolute chaos”, tweeting: “The lack of transparency has made this situation so much worse than it needed to be.”
Meanwhile, the brother and coach of Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic, who lost her second round singles match, tweeted: “I’m telling you now … We couldn’t care less about the US Open 2020, cancel our games … Just let us go home. Make us go home.
“I never thought I would tweet that one day. But that’s really where we are right now.”
Later, an update to the schedule said that the contest between Zverev and Mannarino would commence “not before 5pm”, even though the court was vacant for hours beforehand.
The clock struck 5 and still there was no sign of the players, but about 20 minutes later Zverev and Mannarino appeared to warm up.
The winner will play unseeded Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the last 16.
AUSSIE MAINTAINS THE RAGE
Aussie Jordan Thompson won through to the fourth round with a straight-sets win over Mikhail Kukushkin, while seventh seed David Goffin brushed aside Serbia’s 26th seed Filip Krajinovic 6-1 7-6 (7-5) 6-4.
In later matches, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic goes up against 28th seed Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany.
Djokovic is looking to close the gap on Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, both absent from the tournament, in the race for the all-time men’s Grand Slam singles title record. Djokovic is on 17, with Nadal on 19 and Federer on 20.
Djokovic is 4-0 against Struff and defeated him in four sets in round one on the way to winning the Australian Open earlier this year.