PALERMO • Almost five months after the tennis season ground to a halt owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the WTA Tour restarted yesterday with a low-key but closely monitored event in Palermo.
The tournament in Sicily, which comes just weeks before the US Open and Roland Garros double-header, had lost top seed Simona Halep before it started to lingering health concerns while an unnamed player withdrew from qualifying after testing positive for Covid-19.
When the Tour was suspended in March, the tennis calendar was shaken upside down.
The prestigious Indian Wells event was the first competition to be axed. The French Open was then moved to late September with Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since World War II.
All elite tennis in China between now and the end of the year has been scrapped, but the US Open sought to restore a semblance of normality in June when it announced that the Grand Slam would go ahead in its scheduled time slot – albeit without fans and under strict health protocols.
However, while the women have resumed their season, the men must wait until the Western and Southern Open – moved from its traditional Cincinnati home to New York – begins on Aug 22, after the tournament in Washington DC was called off.
In the highlight of first-round matches in Palermo yesterday, world No. 24 Donna Vekic of Croatia defeated Dutchwoman Arantxa Rus 6-1, 6-2.
This week’s field will feature players exclusively from Europe and just three of the world’s top 20 – led by 15th-ranked Petra Martic, last year’s French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and Greece’s Maria Sakkari.
“The WTA has warned us that these first two weeks are test tournaments,” France’s world No. 174 Chloe Paquet told AFP, with competitions lined up in Prague and Kentucky next week. “We know that if it goes well, there could be others. If it goes badly, the calendar could be reviewed. We’re aware of that.”
As tennis looks to reconcile staging top-level events during the ongoing pandemic, players will face regular testing – starting upon their arrival in Palermo and repeated every four days.
Masks are required aside from when playing or eating while support teams will be limited to just one person, as the organisers attempt to limit contact between players and the outside world to a minimum.
Of the top 20 ranked women’s players are in the Palermo Open field.
Read more:Palermo event off to cautious start