As turmoil swept through the US Open again with the last-minute delay of Adrian Mannarino’s match against Alexander Zverev, Dan Evans became the final British player to leave the tournament.
Another Frenchman, the exasperating and gifted young Parisian, Corentin Moutet, broke down his resistance to win 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1) in four and a quarter hours of a rain-interrupted match on Court 5 and the British No 1 later spoke of his disappointment – and the mystery of Mannarino.
He said he overheard a conversation in the locker room that indicated there was confusion over the third-round match between Mannarino and Zverev.
“I was just in the changing room,” Evans said, “and I was wondering what they were on about, as he was supposed to be on the court. When a guy said Mannarino wasn’t going on the court, I didn’t know what he was on about.”
Mannarino was one of several French players named as having had contact with his Covid-positive compatriot, Benoît Paire. There was no immediate statement from the United States Tennis Association.
The players finally arrived on court at 5.15pm. The USTA issued a statement hours after the incident began, which revealed little.
“The Zverev-Mannarino match was delayed while a collaborative dialogue with health officials was conducted. 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.”
Evans’s defeat followed that of Cameron Norrie on the same court, as they joined Andy Murray, Kyle Edmund, Johanna Konta and Heather Watson on their way out of the Flushing Meadows bubble.
Norrie said after the Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina had beaten him that he had no problems with the USTA’s protocols to protect players from coronavirus, although several of the French players claimed they had been treated unfairly.
“For me it was good,” Norrie said. “They did a good job. They were very strict. They took the extra care that they needed to. In this kind of scenario it’s not easy.
“It’s nice to know they can still run a tournament with this kind of thing going on, keeping communication with the players. There’s a lot of moving parts, a lot of different regulations being put in, different countries and different rules.
“I think the biggest thing was keeping communication with the players so that everyone’s on the same wavelength, and they know the consequences if they bring two people with them, or one person, what the implications are.
“I think it is good to have a very black and white structure just so every case by case scenario is not different. I think the USTA and everyone involved have done a good job to keep their eye on the bubble and to enforce all the regulations.”
Before rain stopped play on the uncovered outside courts on Thursday, Evans did well to cope with the antics of the flamboyant Moutet. They each had won a set when Evans paused mid-serve at 5-6 on game point in the third as light rain fell, and they retired to their respective bubbles. To that point, it was a match packed with a highlights reel of clever shots, outrageous athleticism and much pointless screaming.
Evans had come from behind to win the first set but could not do so in a exhausting second frame where Moutet played way above his 77 world ranking. If Evans is a good player capable of brilliant tennis, Moutet surely is a brilliant player capable of good and bad tennis, often in the same rally, and that was enough to extend their duel of wits and stamina all the way to the stoppage.
The slate was clean but tilted when they resumed and Evans, fired up, forced the tie-break.
However, Moutet overcame a timid start to take the shootout from 1-4 down for a one-set lead, and Evans was clearly agitated as he railed at movement among the tournament staff who had wandered in to watch a fascinating match.
His frustration lifted his level and he raced to 3-0 in the fourth, saving a break point during another background interruption, and it was Moutet’s turn to rant at minor distractions. Inevitably in a match of so many fluctuations, there were further twists and turns, and Moutet fought his way back to 4-all with a love hold.
He composed himself to force a second tie-break just past four hours and played inspired tennis to change ends at 5-1 and finished the job when he forced a weary backhand out of Evans.
Earlier on the same court, Norrie battled dehydration and blurred vision in a grinding encounter against Fokina, who outlasted him to win 7-6 (2), 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 in two hours and 43 minutes.
When Norrie double-faulted to go 1-5 down in the fourth, struggling with a worsening eye problem, there was sad resignation across his features after a week in which he otherwise distinguished himself. When he framed the last shot of the match, his conqueror could barely contain his joy.