Tennis Australia endorses double bubble at US Open

Tennis Australia has endorsed the stance taken by the US Open to subject players deemed close contacts of Benoit Paire, who returned a positive COVID-19 test, to additional restrictions in New York.

With the first tennis major since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic unfolding on the American east coach, the bio-security bubble set-up by the United States Tennis Association – for the two-week US Open as well as a lead-up event – has attracted some criticism.

US officials introduced additional requirements for close contacts of Paire – a so-called "bubble within a bubble" after the French 17th seed was withdrawn of the eve of the event. Players were required to sign a revised agreement with the USTA in order to remain in the tournament.

Without committing to an identical process at January's Australian Open, Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley said the US moves were backed by medical advice.

"They just asked those people, in case they were going to spread it further, to stay isolated and only come out to play," Tiley said.

"What else are you going to do? Kick them out?"

US tournament health officials determined a group of 11 people – including seven players – needed additional restrictions, including daily coronavirus testing, being consigned to their hotel room when away from Flushing Meadows and being barred from on-site player facilities except their playing and practice courts.

The moves frustrated several players such as Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens – deemed one of the close contacts – who complained about having to stay in quarantine until 11 September despite already exiting the tournament.

Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic described her "nightmare" situation after an on-court meltdown where she won 11 of the first 13 games in her second-round match, before then losing 12 of the last 13, to make a hasty exit.

"If I had known that playing cards for 40 minutes with a mask with a player who tested positive and ultimately negative would have these consequences, I would never have set foot in this tournament," Mladenovic said.

Before the Open, USTA officials also confirmed that a "non-player" returned a positive test. That individual was a "tier one" tennis representative – a group made up of players, player guests and officials from the sport's governing bodies, including the ATP and WTA staff.

Tournament director Stacey Allaster was unsurprised.

"All of the safety and medical health protocols that have been approved by the state, are now being implemented and overseen by the US Open medical team," she told the Tennis Channel.

"They've all been executed exactly the way we intended. Everyone remains safe.

"With more than 3500 individuals in our tier one and tier two bubble, we anticipated that we would have some positive tests."

Tiley endorsed the USTA's moves after listening to expert medical opinion.

"Default to the experts. The criticism they took the other day – that was a medical decision. That wasn't an administration decision," Tiley said.

"They were given advice by the medical experts that the contact – and I'm assuming it was incidental enough – was such that it was low risk.

"You've got to protect everyone else. That's the primary position."

However, Tiley said Tennis Australia was still determining the precise bio-security requirements for next year's Australian Open.

"It's too early to tell because we're working closely with the Vic government on the protocols for that," he said.

"The number one objective is to ensure no-one gets infected. The second objective is to ensure it doesn't spread."

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