WIMBLEDON, England — Matteo Berrettini, last year’s runner-up at Wimbledon, dropped out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament hours before he was scheduled to play his first-round match Tuesday, saying that he tested positive for COVID-19.
The eighth-seeded Berrettini became the second high-profile player to pull out of the men’s draw within the first two days because of the illness caused by the coronavirus, joining 2014 US Open champion and 2017 Wimbledon finalist Marin Cilic, who was seeded 14th.
Players are not required by the tournament to get checked for COVID-19 this year; both Berrettini and Cilic said they got tested because they wanted to after having symptoms.
An All England Club spokesperson did not respond to questions about what the level of concern is about COVID-19 at the event or whether additional measures were being taken to prevent spread of the virus, but did say in an e-mail that organizers have been working with the British public health agency and local authorities.
After being canceled in 2020 because of the pandemic, then setting up a bubble-type environment and restricting attendance in 2021 to try to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Wimbledon has returned to normal in every way, with no mask-wearing requirement, full crowds, and the famous queue back in action.
“For the most part, I feel like it’s OK that players are doing it themselves. I mean, I feel like that’s the regulations in the government now: If you feel symptoms, test. That’s what I would do if I felt any COVID symptoms; I would test,” said 18-year-old American Coco Gauff, the runner-up at the French Open this month.
“I think it’s also good now that we don’t have to test every day or every other day. I don’t want to go back to that. Not being scared to be tested, but it’s also a hassle,” added Gauff, who won her first-round match Tuesday. “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.”
Berrettini spent time practicing with 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal on Centre Court last week and also crossed paths there with Novak Djokovic, who beat Berrettini in last year’s final at Wimbledon.
After winning his first-round match Tuesday, Nadal did not sound too concerned.
“Difficult to be a close contact when you are outside, when you are practicing ... For the moment I am feeling great, no problems at all,” Nadal said. “Main thing is I feel very sorry for him because he was playing fantastic.”
The All England Club announced Berrettini’s withdrawal, and he posted about it on Instagram, saying that he was “heartbroken” and has been isolating “the last few days” after experiencing flu-like symptoms.
The men’s bracket already is missing six of the top 11 in the ATP rankings: No. 1 Daniil Medvedev (ban on Russians ), No. 2 Alexander Zverev (ankle surgery), No. 8 Andrey Rublev (ban on Russians), No. 9 No. Felix Auger-Alissiame (lost Tuesday), No. 10 Hubert Hurkacz (lost Monday), and No. 11 Berrettini.
Berrettini was supposed to play 44th-ranked Cristian Garín in the first round on Tuesday. Berrettini was replaced in the field by Elias Ymer, who lost in qualifying and then lost to Garín.
Berrettini was considered a title contender for Wimbledon, both because of last year’s run to his first Grand Slam final at the All England Club before losing to Djokovic — and because of his recent form on grass.
“He is definitely [one of the] top two, three players in the world on grass in the last three years. I mean, his results are testament to that,” Djokovic said on Monday about Berrettini. “Probably, this is his favorite surface. For his game, it’s the most suitable surface. So there is a lot of expectations on his side that he should go far in this tournament.”
The 26-year-old Berrettini, who relies on big serves and big forehands, won two tuneup tournaments on the surface this month, going 9-0 at Stuttgart, Germany, and Queen’s Club in London.
That was how he returned to action after being sidelined since March because of an operation on his right hand.
In all, since the start of 2019, he is 32-3 on grass. Two of those three losses came against six-time Wimbledon winner Djokovic and eight-time champion Roger Federer.
“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.”