Can't keep virus out of it

Novak Djokovic sailed into the Last 16 of the US Open on Friday as off-court intrigue forced the delay of a men's singles match over issues linked to Coronavirus. Djokovic outclassed Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 in a routine victory for the World No. 1, who is chasing an 18th Grand Slam singles title. Far from routine, fifth seed Alexander Zverev won a mystery-laden US Open match that was delayed by three hours Friday after New York state apparently staged a last-minute intervention to try to prevent opponent Adrian Mannarino from playing.

France's Mannarino said he was about to go on court for his 2:30 pm start when tournament organisers told him the state's health department had contacted them to say he should be quarantining in his hotel room.

'I was ready'

"That was big news for me. I mean, I was ready to go on court," Mannarino told reporters after Zverev defeated him 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 to progress to the Last 16 at Flushing Meadows. Mannarino was one of several players put under enhanced safety protocols earlier this week after compatriot Benoit Paire was withdrawn from the US Open on Sunday following a positive test for Coronavirus. Up to 11 players who had been in contact with Paire signed an agreement with New York City authorities placing them under tighter restrictions in exchange form them being allowed to remain in the tournament.

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 Center.

 Alexander Zverev reacts during his match against Adrian Mannarino in the US Open on Friday. Pic/AFP
Alexander Zverev reacts during his match against Adrian Mannarino in the US Open on Friday. Pic/AFP

Previously, they had been allowed in communal areas. Mannarino said tournament organisers told him that New York state authorities had intervened in the case and ruled that he was now not allowed to play.

Tennis officials explained to him that they were making some calls to try to get the decision changed. "It was a weird situation for me. I was just laying on the sofa still trying to be focused just in case I would go on court," he said. Mannarino found out at 4:40 pm that he was permitted to play after all, he explained. The players started their match inside Louis Armstrong Stadium 40 minutes later, with Mannarino taking the first set.

But the Frenchman quickly flagged and blamed a groin injury rather than the disrupted build-up for his loss. "I was just kind of happy, in my situation to be able to play," he said. Two hours after the match was supposed to start, with no sign of either player, intrigue over whether it would take place deepened inside the US National Tennis Center. Then an update said the contest would commence "not before 5:00 pm." Soon afterwards, the United States Tennis Association put out a statement. "The Zverev-Mannarino match was delayed while a collaborative dialogue with health officials was conducted today," the body 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," the body added.

Djoko calls NY governor

The intrigue deepened further when Djokovic later said he had spent much of the afternoon working contacts and even tried to reach the governor of New York to get the decision overturned. "In the end, to be honest, I don't know what exactly happened. They just told me that finally Adrian was allowed to play," the World No. 1 said after his straight-sets victory. Zverev said he had been told there was "very little chance" the match was going to go ahead.

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