Palermo in the spotlight as WTA season restarts after virus shutdown

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Palermo (Italy) (AFP)

Almost five months after the end of the tennis season following the global coronavirus outbreak, the WTA tour will restart on Monday with a low-key but closely watched event in Palermo.

The tournament in Sicily, which comes just weeks before the US Open and Roland Garros, has already lost seed Simona Halep due to lingering health issues, while an anonymous player withdrew from qualifying after testing positive for COVID-19.

Sofia Kenin and Elina Svitolina won the titles in Lyon and Monterrey respectively on March 8, the last day of competitive matches before the circuit was suspended amid the tennis schedule in turmoil.

The prestigious Indian Wells event in the California desert became the first competition suspended due to the pandemic. The French Open was then moved to the end of September, with Wimbledon canceled for the first time since World War II.

All elite tennis in China between now and the end of the year has been abandoned, but the US Open sought to restore some semblance of normalcy in June when it announced the Grand Slam would take place in its niche. scheduled schedule – albeit without fans and under strict sanitary protocols.

However, as the women resume their season on Monday, the men must wait for the Western and Southern Open – moved from their traditional home in Cincinnati to New York – to begin on August 22, after the tournament was canceled. Washington DC.

Next week’s Palermo field will feature exclusively European players and just three of the top 20 in the world – led by 15th-placed Petra Martic, 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and Greece’s Maria Sakkari.

– Tests –

“The WTA has warned us that these first two weeks are test tournaments,” French world number 174 Chloe Paquet told AFP, with competitions scheduled in Prague and Kentucky the following week.

“We know that if it goes well, there could be others. If things go wrong, the schedule could be revised. We are aware of it, ”added Paquet, who fell in qualifying in Palermo.

As tennis seeks to reconcile the organization of high-level events during the ongoing pandemic, players will need to undergo regular testing – starting on arrival in Palermo and repeated every four days.

Masks are mandatory outside of the game or meal, while support teams will be limited to one person as organizers try to keep contact between players and the outside world to a minimum.

A number of exhibition events have been held this summer with varying degrees of success, although Novak Djokovic’s hapless Adria Tour served as a warning about the inherent risks in general.

Four players, including the world number one himself, tested positive for COVID-19 in June after participating in the Balkans event, where social distancing was minimal and matches were played in front of thousands of fans.

The players were also seen partying at a crowded Belgrade nightclub, sparking a storm of criticism. Djokovic later apologized, saying he was “so sorry” that the event “caused any harm” but said the widespread criticism he had received was like a “witch hunt”.

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