Rafael Nadal dragged into French Open COVID-19 ‘scandal’

Having been pushed back four months to September to escape the worst of the coronavirus, the French Open gets underway on Sunday still struggling to loosen the grip of the deadly pandemic.

On Monday, the French Tennis Federation said that five players due to take part in men’s qualifying had been pulled out. Two had tested positive while three others had been in contact with a coach who had also returned a positive test.

One of the five players was former top-30 player Damir Dzumhur, who has been forced to quarantine after his coach Petar Popovic tested positive.

“We’re sure it was a false positive because my trainer has antibodies,” Dzumhur wrote on Instagram. “He was not allowed to take a second test. I am devastated.”

Popovic hit out at the “scandal” and told L’Equipe had this happened to a more high-profile player, like Rafael Nadal, they would have been able to take another test to give themselves a second chance of competing at the grand slam.

“I’m sure if it had happened to a bigger player he would have had the opportunity to prove that it’s not a fake,” Popovic said. “I think if Rafael Nadal was in our situation, he would be entitled to a second or third test to verify. So we’re really disgusted with what’s happening to us.

“We leave with a bitter taste. Damir was just outside the final draw, two or three places outside.”

The other players were named in Spanish media reports as Ernesto Escobedo of the United States, Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain and Serbia’s Pedja Krstin.

Between last Thursday and Sunday, around 900 COVID-19 tests had been carried out. Some were left in no doubt as to their thoroughness.

“French Open is playing no games with that COVID test,” tweeted America’s Sachia Vickery. “I felt that deep in my thoughts!”

To compound the event’s problems, it was then revealed on Tuesday that a female player, set to feature in qualifying, had also tested positive and had been withdrawn.

Fears over the spread of the virus had already prompted defending champion and women’s world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty to skip the tournament.

The Australian had also opted out of the US Open, as had Nadal and 2018 French Open champion Simona Halep.

At Roland Garros, players and their entourages will be confined to two bio-secure hotels.