Adrian Mannarino and Kristina Mladenovic both played and won their U.S. Open first-round matches Monday afternoon.
Then it was back to their incredibly strict “bubble within a bubble.”
Mannarino and Mladenovic are among the players who were found to have been in close contact with Benoit Paire, the Frenchman who on Sunday tested positive for COVID-19. Paire was disqualified from the event, but seven players who were in contact with him were put under stricter protocols within the bubble for a few days, a tournament official confirmed to The Post’s Marc Berman.
The players in question are allowed to play their matches and “nothing else,” Mladenovic said Monday after beating American wild-card Hailey Baptiste, 7-5, 6-2. The 30th seed from France said she is not allowed in any of the players’ facilities or public spaces within the regular bubble, which has taken a mental toll since the new protocols went into place.
“It’s been very tough the last two, three days for me, emotionally, nerves,’’ Mladenovic said. “I am basically in a new bubble in the bubble. There’s very much I’m not allowed to do, which makes it very tough for me to compete and mentally be fresh and ready.”
Mladenovic said she had practiced with Paire once and later “spent maybe 30-45 minutes” playing cards at a big table with a group that included Paire, while all of them wore masks. She said she has been tested twice since and both came back negative, but the heavy protocols remain in place.
“Literally seeing no one else,” said Mladenovic, who is set to face Varvara Gracheva in the second round. “It’s mentally very tough. I still have to find a way and discuss with the USTA how we can organize things in order for me to be at least competitive and have equipment to keep working.”
Mannarino, the 32nd seed from France who was also involved in that game of cards with Paire, echoed Mladenovic, saying he was “exhausted mentally.” He still managed to beat Italian Lorenzo Sonego 6-1, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 on Monday, but described the emotional wave he’s ridden since finding out about Paire — from not knowing if he was going to be able to play, to agreeing to the new protocol Sunday and then being able to come to the stadium and hit a few balls that night.
Included in the new protocols, according to Mannarino: players’ meals will be delivered to their hotel room, they must take the stairs instead of the elevator — his hotel room is on the seventh floor — and they have separate transportation to the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“I haven’t been sleeping much,” said Mannarino, who will meet American Jack Sock in the second round. “I’ve been thinking a lot. … The last thing I want to do now is be dangerous for any other players. I might be infected, I don’t know. So far I’m negative, but I just want everybody to be safe.”
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