Kristina Mladenovic, Kirsten Flipkens ousted from 'bubble inside bubble'

NEW YORK -- The "bubble inside the bubble" at the US Open burst on Wednesday for Kristina Mladenovic and Kirsten Flipkens, two players who have been under restrictive "enhanced protocols" at the tournament.

The women were subject to even more severe restrictions than their peers because they had been contact-traced to Benoit Paire, the French player who tested positive for the coronavirus last weekend. He was removed from the draw before the tournament started.

Mladenovic blamed her second-round loss Wednesday on the onerous restrictions.

"I was playing well but I was feeling on the edge," Mladenovic said after losing to Varvara Gracheva in three sets. "What they [the USTA] are forcing us to go through is abominable. I want my freedom back. I feel like we are prisoners here."

Flipkens, who lost to American Jessica Pegula in three sets, would not lay the blame on the restrictions. She told ESPN: "I'm not at all going to use that as an excuse for my loss today. Honestly, I could put it on the side pretty good."

The additional restrictions for players under enhanced protocols bar them from most of the areas inside the controlled environments at the National Tennis Center and the official player hotels, including most workout facilities and dining areas.

They are, as Mladenovic said on Monday, in "a bubble in the bubble."

None of the seven players in the enhanced protocols program has tested positive for COVID-19.

The first players identified as part of the enhanced protocols regimen were a trio French compatriots of Paire: Mladenovic, Adrian Mannarino and Edouard Roger-Vasselin. Later, the USTA confirmed that Flipkens, Richard Gasquet, Gregoire Barrere and Ysaline Bonaventure had also been linked to Paire via contact tracing.

Flipkens and Bonaventure, who won her first match on Tuesday, are Belgians, but they had mingled with the French contingent on Friday evening before the start of the US Open.

"It's not that I am close to him [Paire] or anything," Flipkens said. "It's just that there were others who I knew sitting with him. I was there for 10 or 15 minutes before I had a massage, and sat with them for another half-hour after."

The enhanced protocols were the result of a revision to the original rules governing the treatment of players who did not test positive for the coronavirus, but had been exposed to someone who did. Players who test positive are removed from the tournament draw. Initially, those who had been in close contact with them were also supposed to be withdrawn, but the USTA, with guidance from New York City health officials, revised the regulations.

Players in the enhanced protocols are essentially restricted to their hotel rooms unless they have arranged for a training session apart from their peers, and must even wait in their rooms for a prearranged pickup to transport them to the NTC for practice or a match.

Mannarino, ranked No. 39, won his second-round match on Wednesday.