WIMBLEDON, England — Matteo Berrettini, a finalist at Wimbledon last year, withdrew from the tournament on Tuesday after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Berrettini’s announcement of his withdrawal came only about two hours before he was to take the court for his first-round match against Cristian Garín and was the latest blow to a Grand Slam tournament that was already shorter than usual on stars and that had been stripped of ranking points for this edition by the men’s and women’s tennis tours.
Berrettini, who is undefeated on grass courts this season and was seeded No. 8 at Wimbledon, was one of the leading contenders for the men’s singles title. His withdrawal came one day after another player, Marin Cilic, the No. 14 seed from Croatia and a 2017 Wimbledon finalist, also withdrew after testing positive.
The dual withdrawal raised the prospect of an outbreak among the player group at Wimbledon, which is missing several stars because of injury and the tournament’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players.
Berrettini and Cilic have been in contact in recent weeks with many players. Both played at the grass-court tournament in Queen’s Club in London that ended on June 19, with Berrettini winning the singles title and Cilic reaching the semifinals.
Both practiced at Wimbledon last week and used the locker room reserved for seeded players. Berrettini trained on Centre Court on Thursday with Rafael Nadal, the No. 2 seed. Cilic trained on Centre Court with Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 seed.
Djokovic, who has said that he remains unvaccinated for the coronavirus, won his first-round match on Monday, defeating Kwon Soon-woo of South Korea in four sets. Djokovic served particularly well but was far from his sharpest in other areas, looking wan and low on energy at one stage and dousing himself with water on a changeover. On Tuesday, Nadal played at Wimbledon for the first time since 2019, beating Francisco Cerundolo in four sets in the first round on Centre Court.
Wimbledon was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic and imposed strict restrictions last year, following British government guidelines. Coronavirus testing was required for players, support team members and tournament officials and employees. But with the loosening of government mandates this year, no testing is currently required at Wimbledon.
In a statement, the All England Club said that its policy is “in keeping with agreed practice across all of the U.K.”
The club said some health and safety measures were still in place. “We have maintained enhanced cleaning and hand sanitizing operations and offer full medical support for anyone feeling unwell,” the statement said.
No masks are required at the tournament, and they are a rare sight on the grounds. But the player medical team is continuing to wear them for any consultations. The team of racket stringers on site is also wearing them. The club emphasized that Wimbledon’s health and safety policies were regularly under review and could be updated.
But the tournament clearly has a problem, which could get bigger.
In all, five of the top 20 men were unable to play at Wimbledon because of bans, injuries or illness. No. 1 Daniil Medvedev of Russia was blocked from competing after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and Wimbledon’s decision to bar Russians and their allies from Belarus led to the tours retaliating by removing ranking points from the tournament.
No. 2-ranked Alexander Zverev is out for an extended period after tearing ligaments in his right ankle at the French Open.
There have also been early upsets. Hubert Hurkacz, the No. 7 seed and a strong contender, was beaten Monday in five sets in the first round by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Felix Auger-Aliassime, the No. 6 seed, was beaten Tuesday in four sets by Maxime Cressy.
Berrettini, a strapping 6-foot-6 Italian, missed several months of action this season because of surgery on his right, primary playing hand. But he returned for the grass-court season this month and won consecutive titles in Stuttgart and at Queen’s Club.
“I have had flu symptoms and been isolating the last few days,” Berrettini wrote on social media. “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.”
Berrettini and Cilic, like many of the leading players, were staying in private accommodations in Wimbledon rather than in one of the player hotels in central London. That could reduce the risk of contamination, but there is also a new sense of resignation among the player community about the virus. Many have had the coronavirus, including Djokovic, Nadal and Coco Gauff.
“I’m pretty sure I had Covid, so I’m less afraid than I used to be,” Maria Sakkari, who is seeded fifth in women’s singles, said after her first-round victory on Tuesday. “We have to get back to a normal life again.”
Sakkari equated getting the coronavirus to getting food poisoning, which could also force withdrawal from a tournament. Alizé Cornet, a French player, said the virus had become a “part of the landscape.”
“There always have been injuries and illnesses,” she told French reporters on Tuesday, claiming that there had been numerous undeclared coronavirus cases among players at the recent French Open. “In the locker room, everyone had it, and we didn’t say anything,” she said, suggesting that some players had symptoms but did not test themselves.
“We’re not going to test ourselves and put ourselves in trouble,” she said. “I saw some women wearing masks because they did not want to spread it.”
Gauff said she was comfortable with testing not being mandatory for players and said she was happy that the testing was no longer “every day or every other day.”
“I don’t want to go back to that,” she said. “Not being scared to be tested, but it’s also, like, a hassle. I think with the 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.”
But she said she would test if she had symptoms and encouraged her peers to do the same.
Berrettini had not been on site at the All England Club since Saturday and now, despite his thunderous serve and forehand, will have to wait until next year.
“I have no words to describe the extreme disappointment I feel,” he said. “The dream is over for this year, but I will be back stronger.”
Cilic, 33, has also been in resurgent form, overwhelming Medvedev in the fourth round of the French Open on his way to the semifinals. With his long reach, huge serve and flat baseline power, he is dangerous on grass and was, like Berrettini, one of the players to watch closely in the bottom half of the men’s draw.
Cilic could have faced Nadal in the fourth round; Berrettini could have faced him in the semifinals. But now Nadal’s path looks quite a bit less daunting, if he remains healthy.
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