WTA Palermo marks return of professional tennis

  • Matt Trollope

Professional tennis makes its long-awaited return at the WTA Palermo Ladies Open, where the main draw begins on Monday.

The clay-court tournament features eight of the world’s top 30 on its entry list and will be the first tournament staged in five months due to the covid-19 pandemic. 

Indian Wells, scheduled for the second week of March, was the first of 20 WTA events to be suspended or cancelled in response to the coronavirus.

The Palermo tournament is headlined by world No.15 Petra Martic and 2019 French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova. 

Joining them are AO 2018 semifinalist Elise Mertens, Grand Slam quarterfinalists Donna Vekic and Anett Kontaveit, and Greek star Maria Sakkari, ranked 20th.

World No.2 Simona Halep withdrew ahead of the event because of travel concerns, while Johanna Konta and Anastasija Sevastova also pulled out.

The WTA confirmed that a player tested positive for coronavirus and withdrew before the start of qualifying, which took place over the weekend.

"All those who may have been in close contact with the individual are undergoing testing per WTA protocols,” said the WTA.

The tournament has put in place a number of safety measures to protect players and fans.

All players and tournament staff will be tested for covid-19 upon arrival in Palermo, and only a negative test result will allow them access to the tournament site. Tests will be repeated every four days. 

Spectator numbers are also capped at 350 for each day of the event – slightly less than a quarter of the tournament’s centre court capacity.

The week after Palermo, the women’s tour continues with events in Prague – also on clay – and Lexington, Kentucky, the latter marking the start of a compressed US hard-court swing.

From there, the tour will head to Flushing Meadows in New York, where Cincinnati's Western & Southern Open has been relocated. The tournament will be staged in the week before the US Open, set to begin on 31 August.

The ATP Tour will resume with the 'Cincinnati' event on 22 August.

Men’s tennis was meant to return a week earlier at the Citi Open in Washington DC, before tournament organisers cancelled the event citing “too many unresolved external issues, including various international travel restrictions”.