On Saturday evening, France recorded nearly 17,000 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, its largest single-day increase since it began recording daily tallies. Authorities hope that new temporary restrictions will reduce pressure on hospitals, which have begun to see increases in patients admitted to intensive care wards.
“We are all aware that we are entering a new phase,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Monday, adding that the virus was here to stay for the immediate future. “We have to work together to protect the most vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, the French Open plays on.
Paris’s new restrictions throw the health protocols at the year’s final major tournament into sharp relief, and not just because of the virus raging outside the confines of Roland Garros.
On Sunday, recent U.S. Open runner-up Alexander Zverev said in a news conference that he had a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday and was feeling so sick that he should not have competed in his fourth-round match against Jannik Sinner, which he lost.
“What can I say? I’m completely sick. I can’t really breathe, as you can hear by my voice,” Zverev said Sunday.
Unlike at the U.S. Open, which was played in New York in September, players competing at the French Open are not living in a so-called bubble.
Players were tested upon arrival and are tested every five days thereafter, and everyone from Novak Djokovic on down must stay at a designated player hotel throughout the tournament. Players are prohibited from leaving the hotel when not competing at the risk of disqualification.
But the hotel, the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel, is not being used exclusively for French Open players and members of their teams. Anyone who wishes to book a room can.
“I will not call it a ‘bubble,’ because [I] don’t think it’s a bubble,” Djokovic said after his 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 fourth-round win over Karen Khachanov on Monday. “But it is a safe environment, controlled environment. We are obviously just operating in two locations between the hotel and tennis courts.”
The French Tennis Federation said Zverev did not make tournament officials aware of his symptoms before his match. Any lingering fever upon his arrival at the site Sunday would have gone undetected, because the tournament is not taking daily temperature readings from players.
The German, ranked seventh in the world, has not missed a test in Paris.
“Zverev is up to date on his tests, which have all been negative,” the French Tennis Federation said in a statement. “His last test was on September 29, with results received on September 30. [Sunday] he received a reminder for his next test, to be carried out within 5 days of the previous results.”
On Sunday, tournament organizers said two players in the junior girls’ tournament beginning this week tested positive for the virus and were removed from the draw.
Zverev, who took a medical timeout during his match, said he regretted taking the court.
“To be honest, I warmed up today, I shouldn’t have played,” he said. “But I was hoping maybe for a three-set win or something like that, but I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to be easy.”
With new citywide restrictions beginning Tuesday, Djokovic doesn’t feel the French Open will be affected given the controlled nature of the tournament. The French Tennis Federation confirmed in an email Monday that 1,000 daily spectators will still be allowed on site.
In Paris on Monday, the 33-year-old reiterated how grateful he is for the chance to compete at all, even amid new restrictions, given tennis’s five month-long hiatus in spring and early summer.
“I mean, it’s hard to see these things unfold again after six months. It’s hard to believe that we’re going to go through that again,” Djokovic said. “I’m just hoping that people will be able to stay mentally sane because we have an opportunity to work and earn money, do what we love. But majority of the people doesn’t have that opportunity. I mean, actually the driver here in Roland Garros that has been driving me and my team for last couple years, he said he had one day of work in the last seven months.
“It puts things in perspective really, makes you more appreciative, I think more grateful that we actually have an opportunity to compete. … I don’t think it can get much better than this considering the circumstances that we have in the world right now.”
McAuley reported from Paris.