While her Orlando Storm teammates were about to take a routine coronavirus test on Monday at The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia, Danielle Collins was not even in the same state.
She was about a two-hour drive away in Charlottesville, Va., where Collins said she had traveled to shop for supplements to help with her rheumatoid arthritis.
The next day Collins, a leading American player, was dismissed from the Storm and the remainder of the World Team Tennis season for breaching the league’s health and safety protocols by leaving the Greenbrier during the competition.
“I don’t think Danielle was trying to do anything bad, but it put us in a situation where you’ve got to uphold what you are trying to do here so we can keep the other 150 people here safe,” said Carlos Silva, the chief executive of World Team Tennis, in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Collins, who reached the semifinals of the 2019 Australian Open and is ranked 51st in singles on the WTA Tour, was sharply critical of men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic last month for complaining about the United States Open’s plans to operate with strict health guidelines that might force players to limit the size of their teams.
“For those of us (most tennis players) who don’t travel with an entourage, we actually need to start working again,” Collins had said. “It would be nice to have the best player in the world supporting this opportunity and not spoiling it for the players and the fans!”
But she insisted on Wednesday that her stance was not at odds with her behavior during World Team Tennis, saying that she had simply not realized that she was not allowed to leave the resort and had seen no written notice forbidding it.
“I don’t feel I intentionally broke a rule so I don’t feel it affects what I said about the U.S. Open,” she said in a telephone interview on Wednesday. “There was a waiver that I signed that was specific to the safety protocols and practices that were to take place during World Team Tennis, and it didn’t have any mention of not leaving the hotel.”
But Silva said the requirement to remain at the resort had been explained to the players and the event staff at an “all-hands meeting in the stadium” on July 11, and then explained again to the teams’ coaches and general managers at another meeting on July 15.
Collins said she had no recollection of hearing it mentioned at the general meeting.
“I wanted to absolutely make sure it was clear,” Silva said.
World Team Tennis, a mixed-gender league founded in 1974, was among the first sports leagues in North America to return during the pandemic and was the largest tennis event so far to do so.
With normal home-and-away play ruled out in 2020, the league managed to salvage its season by bringing all nine teams to The Greenbrier to stage the entire competition there over three weeks.
The experiment is being closely watched by others in the tennis world. The U.S. Open, the Grand Slam event scheduled to run from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 in New York, is also planning to limit interactions to test and protect players and staff during the event, which is to be held without spectators.
“It’s important for sports in general that this goes well,” Silva said of his league’s season. “This isn’t just us. I’m cheering for M.L.S. I’m cheering for the N.B.A. I’m cheering for a tennis exhibition going on in Europe. I am cheering for the U.S. Open, and we are happy to share any of the knowledge we acquire here. It’s definitely not easy, I will tell you.”
The biggest challenge, he said, is maintaining vigilance.
“You can do things right 100 times, but if you do things wrong once, the 100 times gets flushed down the toilet in a second,” he said. “You cannot let your guard down.”
World Team Tennis play began on July 12 and is set to continue until Aug. 2. Players and league staff are being tested regularly, though not daily, for the coronavirus and are required to wear masks and socially distance when in public areas. But players and league officials are not the only visitors at the resort. The hotel and its vast grounds are open to other guests, and a maximum of 500 spectators are also allowed in the tennis stadium, although Silva said that so far there had been no more than “a couple hundred a day.”
So far, 740 tests have been conducted on the league’s players and staff, with none producing positive results.
The Coronavirus Outbreak ›
Frequently Asked Questions
Updated July 22, 2020
Why do masks work?
- The coronavirus clings to wetness and enters and exits the body through any wet tissue (your mouth, your eyes, the inside of your nose). That’s why people are wearing masks and eyeshields: they’re like an umbrella for your body: They keep your droplets in and other people’s droplets out. But masks only work if you are wearing them properly. The mask should cover your face from the bridge of your nose to under your chin, and should stretch almost to your ears. Be sure there are no gaps — that sort of defeats the purpose, no?
Is the coronavirus airborne?
- The coronavirus can stay aloft for hours in tiny droplets in stagnant air, infecting people as they inhale, mounting scientific evidence suggests. This risk is highest in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, and may help explain super-spreading events reported in meatpacking plants, churches and restaurants. It’s unclear how often the virus is spread via these tiny droplets, or aerosols, compared with larger droplets that are expelled when a sick person coughs or sneezes, or transmitted through contact with contaminated surfaces, said Linsey Marr, an aerosol expert at Virginia Tech. Aerosols are released even when a person without symptoms exhales, talks or sings, according to Dr. Marr and more than 200 other experts, who have outlined the evidence in an open letter to the World Health Organization.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
What’s the best material for a mask?
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
- So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
“It’s not a perfect bubble, but it’s close and players are comfortable with things in my opinion,” said Tennys Sandgren, an American men’s player who was one of Collins’s teammates on the Storm.
Collins said the presence of so many outsiders contributed to her confusion. “I don’t really know how that works if I wasn’t able to leave and there’s hundreds of guests staying at the hotel who weren’t with the group,” she said.
She said she had informed a World Team Tennis official about her intention of traveling to Charlottesville, where she was a star at the University of Virginia, winning N.C.A.A. singles titles in 2014 and 2016. She said the league official, whom she declined to name, had not informed her such a trip was forbidden. She also said she had left the Greenbrier earlier in the season to seek care for her dog.
“W.T.T. staff were aware of that and didn’t say I couldn’t do that,” she said.
Collins said she had been going through a difficult time, with her arthritis flaring up and her mother hospitalized for “a pre-existing medical condition.”
Silva said inquiries had not turned up any confirmation of a league official condoning Collins’ trip to Charlottesville. He also said he had found no evidence of players leaving the resort for outside meals, despite some concern.
He said Collins was not being held to a different standard. “I would never do that,” Silva said. “It wouldn’t be bright, wouldn’t be fair. I think also a surprise trip two hours away to a different state definitely raises your level of attention for sure. If she had made a mistake and gone down the street to a pizza shop and she really didn’t know, I would have talked to her about it. But a surprise trip that was a two-hour drive?”
Sandgren said the other members of the Storm were all aware of the rule against outside travel and that no one knew Collins had departed.
“Nobody had any clue she left,” he said in a text message. “W.T.T. had no choice when she left without telling anyone and on the day we were all to be retested.”