American Denis Kudla was leading Morocco’s Elliot Benchetrit 6-4, 5-3 in a qualifying match for the upcoming Australian Open when officials unexpectedly came on to the court. Rather than to signal a rain delay, or warn of potential player misconduct, they came bearing news that Kudla had tested positive for Coronavirus. With the qualifying tournament being played in Doha – the first time it has been staged outside of Australia – each player has been subjected to pre-match testing. According to the players, Kudla and Benchetrit did not have to wait for the results before taking to the court.
Bizarrely still, the players were instructed to finish the game. Managing to ignore the distraction that he had contracted the potentially deadly virus, Kudla served out for the win before being taken into emergency quarantine. Had Benchetrit won the game and kept the match alive, the American would have been forced to forfeit the match and concede defeat. Due to face Aussie Dane Sweeney in the next round of qualifying, Kudla will now have to pull out of the event, handing Sweeney a walkover.
His opponent took to social media after the match to describe what happened. “At 5-3, they got the result. So to sum up: if I’d won that game at 5-3 to make it 5-4, I’d have qualified for the second round,” he wrote via Instagram.
The sequence of events only serve to cast the fate of the Australian Open, due to start later this month, in further doubt. With international borders still closed and reports of a new deadly strain of Covid-19 spreading, many have called for the tournament to be cancelled altogether. Whether or not it goes ahead, it’s an unprecedented time in sport, as it is in all areas of life.
Kudla is the second player in the Doha event to have tested positive. He joins Argentine Francisco Cerundolo in quarantine. Let’s hope both make a speedy recovery.