The German world No 7 Alexander Zverev has already violated the spirit of Covid-19 protocols once this year, by being photographed in a Riviera beach bar in June when he had promised to self-isolate.
Now Zverev seems to have committed a second offence by playing Sunday’s French Open fourth-round match while experiencing a 38-degree fever and heavy nasal congestion. In all probability, he was suffering from nothing more sinister than a cold. But could he really be sure?
A statement from the French Tennis Federation (FFT) revealed that Zverev had not consulted the tournament doctors before the match. During the German part of his post-match press conference, he said that his physio, Hugo Gravil, had suffered from a cold a fortnight ago, and that he believed he had contracted that.
The FFT added that Zverev’s last negative Covid test was on September 29, with the result delivered the following day. The rules state that he then has another five days before he is required to give another test, which would take him up to Monday. Given that he was suffering from cold symptoms, you might have thought he would have checked in for an extra test, just to be sure.
Once on the Roland Garros site on Sunday, Zverev was listless and heavy-legged during a 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 loss to Italian 19-year-old Jannik Sinner. He did finally call the doctor to the court during the first set, though it was only to ask for a nasal spray to clear his congestion.
After the match, Zverev admitted that he shouldn’t have played – though his reasoning was that he hadn’t been healthy enough to compete properly, not that he was concerned about potentially spreading the pandemic. Asked whether he thought he might be suffering from Covid-19, he refused to answer.
“I’m completely sick,” said Zverev. “I can't really breathe, as you can hear by my voice. I had fever as well. I'm not in the best physical state, I would say. I think that had a little bit of an effect on the match today.
“I was just putting the ball in the court and letting him do everything,” added Zverev. “I shouldn't have played. 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.”
As a youngster making his first appearance in the second week of a major, Sinner was understandably reluctant to criticise his defeated opponent. Asked whether he was concerned that Zverev might have been contagious, he replied: “I think he's honest guy, so if he says that he has cold or fever or whatever, I trust him.”
Zverev was part of Novak Djokovic’s ill-fated Adria Tour in June. The blatant lack of social distancing at that event – which extended to players doing the limbo while half-naked in a Belgrade nightclub – saw Djokovic himself, Borna Coric, Viktor Troicki and Grigor Dimitrov contract Covid-19, as well as several support staff.
Zverev was not infected, but his promise to self-isolate after the event was exposed as bogus by a video from the Anjuna Plage Beach Club in Eze.