WIMBLEDON, England – Matteo Berrettini, a finalist at last year’s Wimbledon, withdrew from this year’s tournament on Tuesday after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Berrettini’s announcement of his retirement came just about two hours before he was due to take to the court for his first-round match against Cristian Garin, and was the final blow to a Grand Slam tournament that was already shorter than usual in terms of stars and stripped of ranking points for this issue of the men’s and women’s tours.
Berrettini, unbeaten on grass this season and seeded 8th at Wimbledon, was one of the leading contenders for the men’s singles title. His withdrawal came a day after another player Marin Cilic, No.14 Croatian and 2017 Wimbledon finalist, also withdrew after testing positive.
The double withdrawal predicted an outbreak in the Wimbledon squad, which is already starless due to injuries and the tournament ban for Russian and Belarusian players.
Berrettini and Cilic have been in contact with many players over the past few weeks. Both played in the grass tournament at the Queen’s Club in London, which ended on June 19, with Berrettini winning the singles title and Cilic reaching the semi-finals.
Both trained at Wimbledon last week, making use of the dressing room reserved for seeded players. Berrettini trained with seeded No. 2 Rafael Nadal on center court on Thursday. Cilic trained on center court with No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
Djokovic, who has said he remains unvaccinated against 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 best in other areas, looking low on energy at times and dousing himself with water on a change. On Tuesday, Nadal was due to play Wimbledon for the first time since 2019, taking on Francisco Cerundolo in the first round on Center Court.
Wimbledon was canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic and strict restrictions were put in place last year in line with UK government guidelines. Coronavirus testing was required for players, support team members, and tournament officials and staff. But with the relaxation of government mandates this year, no tests are required at Wimbledon at the moment.
In a statement, the All England Club said its policy was “in line with agreed practice across the United Kingdom”.
The club said some health and safety measures were still in place. “We have maintained enhanced cleaning and hand sanitizing procedures and are providing full medical support to anyone who is unwell,” the statement said.
Masks will not be required at the tournament but the players’ medical team will continue to wear them for all consultations and the club stressed that Wimbledon’s health and safety guidelines would be regularly reviewed and could be updated.
But the tournament clearly has a problem that could get bigger.
Overall, five of the top 20 men were unable to play at Wimbledon due to suspensions, injuries or illness. No. 1 Daniil Medvedev of Russia was banned from participating after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and Wimbledon’s decision to ban Russians and their allies from Belarus caused the tours to retaliate by removing ranking points from the tournament.
Alexander Zverev, number 2, is out for an extended period after tearing ligaments in his right ankle at the French Open earlier this month.
Monday also saw an early upset when Hubert Hurkacz, number 7 and a strong contender, was beaten in five sets by Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the first round.
Berrettini, a burly, 6-foot-6 Italian, missed several months of action earlier this season with surgery on his right hand, his primary playing hand. But he returned for the grass season earlier this month, winning back-to-back titles at Stuttgart and Queen’s Club.
“I’m heartbroken,” Berrettini said in a post on his Instagram account announcing his retirement. “I have had flu symptoms for the past few days and have been isolated. Although the symptoms were not severe, I decided it was important to take another test this morning to protect the health and safety of my competitors and everyone else involved in the tournament.”
Berrettini, like many of the leading players, stayed in private accommodation at Wimbledon rather than one of the players’ hotels in central London. He has not been on site at the All England Club since Saturday and will now have to wait until next year despite his thunderous serve and forehand.
“I have no words to describe the extreme disappointment I feel,” he said. “The dream is over for this year but I will come back stronger.”
Cilic, 33, was also in renewed form, overpowering Medvedev in the fourth round of the French Open en route to the semifinals. With his long reach, huge serve and flat baseline power, he is dangerous on grass and, like Berrettini, was one of the players closely watched 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 if he stays healthy looks a whole lot less scary.