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At some point... we all might have had the flu. . . At Roland Garros, yes, I think there have been a few cases and it's a tacit agreement between us. We are not going to self-test to get into trouble. Afterwards, I saw girls wearing masks, maybe because they knew and didn't want to pass on (the virus). French player Alize Cornet, once No. 11, to French reporters after her first-round win at Wimbledon on Tuesday


Let no one suggest that professional tennis players are not a keenly self-interested lot. Cornet might never have violated the conspiracy of silence to which she refers were it not for the fact that the subject arose when two high-profile former finalists at the All England Club, Marin Cilic and Matteo Berrettini, pulled out of Wimbledon after testing positive for COVID-19.

It was an especially hard blow for Berrettini, the 26-year old Italian who was considered perhaps the No. 2 contender behind Novak Djokovic. Berrettini—who finished runner-up to the Serbian in 2021—compiled a 9-0 record in winning two titles at his grass-court tune-ups for this year’s competition.

Cilic, the 2017 finalist who withdrew on Monday for reasons of “illness,” later learned and announced that his COVID-19 test had returned positive. He had practiced just days before testing positive with unvaccinated Novak Djokovic (who has shown no symptoms of the virus). Berrettini shook hands with Djokovic when the two met at the practice courts early on Tuesday, and later practiced alongside Rafael Nadal.

In his own announcement on Tuesday, Berrettini, who is ranked No. 11, wrote: "I am heartbroken to announce that I need to withdraw from Wimbledon due to a positive COVID-19 test result. I have had flu symptoms and been isolating for the last few days.”

Wimbledon has been a truly “open” tournament this year, with no COVID-19 protocols or mandatory testing in place for the players. So it makes you wonder if, in conjunction with the French Open, the sport in general hasn’t become a giant petri dish for the coronavirus. As of Wednesday evening, there had been no change in the AELTC’s position on testing, leaving it up to the players to monitor their own health.

Cornet defeated No. 27 seed Yulia Putintseva to kick off her campaign at SW19.

Cornet defeated No. 27 seed Yulia Putintseva to kick off her campaign at SW19.


Some players have, or will, self-test. But really, who wants to go through that whole rigmarole again—especially when he or she can embrace a “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude comparable to that of those French players at Roland Garros? The fear of COVID certainly has diminished in tennis, much as it has in society at large. When Coco Gauff was asked after her first-round win on Tuesday about Cornet’s revelations and the mens’ withdrawals, she said:

"I think for the most part I feel like it's okay that players are doing it (testing) themselves. That's what I would do if I felt any COVID-19 symptoms. I think it's also good that we don't have to test every day, or every other day. I don't want to go back to that. Not being scared to be tested, but it's also, like, a hassle. I think with vaccines and everything, we kind of know that the viral load is low and it's very hard to transfer if you're a vaccinated individual. I would encourage everybody if you're feeling symptoms to test."

Gauff’s attitude is understandable and probably widely shared among the players. The problem arises when you take the case of a theoretical player who has symptoms but, eager to play in a Grand Slam, decides not to self-test. Remember, we don’t know how Cilic or Berrettini—or any one else who may end up with COVID-19—contracted the virus. The conspiracy of silence is likely to continue, with everyone hoping that near-universal vaccination and the diminished power of the virus doesn’t lead to a more serious outbreak.

The person you have to really feel for in this situation is Berrettini. Given that his symptoms were relatively mild, he may have been tempted to wait it out—wouldn’t you?—and see if he could compete without saying anything at a tournament many tipped him to win. It would have been his first Grand Slam title.

But, Berretini wrote: "Despite symptoms not being severe, I decided it was important to take another test this morning to protect the health and safety of my fellow competitors and everyone else involved in the tournament."I have no words to describe the extreme disappointment I feel. The dream is over for this year, but I will be back stronger. Thank you for the support."

The short-sightedness and outright selfishness implied by Cornet’s original revelation about the conspiracy of silence at Roland Garros is obvious. But it’s comforting to know that there are some good guys willing to do the right thing in this sad saga as well.