Halep, Konta lead Palermo Open field

hannahwilks in Palermo Open 22 Jul 2020
Two-time Grand Slam champion Simona Halep leads five of the WTA’s top 20 at the Palermo Open, which begins on 3 August (Photo by Christian Liewig/ABACAPRESS.COM)

Simona Halep and Johanna Konta lead a very strong field for the Palermo Ladies Open, the WTA’s first tennis tournament since the tour was suspended.

WTA Tour tennis officially returns on 3 August 2020, four and a half months after all professional tennis was suspended.

And judging by the entry list for the Palermo Ladies Open, the players are itching to get back on to the court after a lengthy spell of inaction.

The 31st Palermo Ladies Open, as an International-level event played on clay in the post-Wimbledon lull, would normally struggle to attract a particularly star-studded field. The top seed in 2019 was world no. 5 Kiki Bertens, but the second seed was world no. 53 Alize Cornet and the eventual champion, Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann, was ranked world no. 82 at the time.

World no. 14 Johanna Konta is headed to the Palermo Open (PA Images)

But in 2020, the tournament takes on a new significance as the first WTA Tour event to be played since tournaments in Monterrey and Lyon finished on 8 March.

World no. 2 Simona Halep, the reigning Wimbledon champion and winner of the French Open in 2018, heads the entry list.

Halep is joined by four more top-20 players, all of whom had good results on clay in 2019: Johanna Konta, who reached the final of two clay-court tournaments in 2019 as well as the semifinals of the French Open; Marketa Vondrousova, who finished runner-up to Ashleigh Barty at Roland Garros in 2019; Rabat champion Maria Sakkari; and Petra Martic, who won Istanbul on clay in 2019 and reached the quarterfinals of the French Open.

There are two more French Open champions in the field as well: Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009) and Jelena Ostapenko (2017).

Marketa Vondrousova was a French Open finalist in 2019 (© Cynthia Lum/Icon SMI via ZUMA Press)

Other notable entrants include former top-10 players Kristina Mladenovic and Daria Kasatkina, and two other players who reached Grand Slam quarterfinals recently, Anett Kontaveit and Donna Vekic. The lowest-ranked player with direct entry at the time of writing is world no. 69 Kristyna Pliskova.

The Palermo Open has granted one wildcard to the hard-hitting Italian player Camila Giorgi, but said it is hoping to attract another top-10 player, with world no. 8 Belinda Bencic a possibility.

The eagerness of players to get back to competing and doing their jobs is understandable, but is also a stark contrast to the ambivalence expressed by many about playing the US Open, which is scheduled to be played behind closed doors from 31 August-13 September.

Halep has said she is ‘worried’ while Angelique Kerber and Elina Svitolina have also expressed doubts about the prospect of travelling to the USA, which currently has over 3.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 138,000 deaths.

Even if players feel comfortable travelling to the USA, safety protocols mean that entourage numbers will be limited, which is something that top players are not used to.

Given that a four-week European clay-court season, jamming together the biggest events of May and June into the space of a month – Madrid, Rome and then the French Open – immediately follows the US Open, and would require players to make a brutally swift transition from clay to hard courts, it’s unsurprising many are tempted to sit out the US Open. The WTA’s revised rankings system also will not penalise players who do not compete at the US Open in 2020 as they can still count their 2019 result, although it’s obviously an opportunity to do better for some.

Whatever happens with the US Open, it’s clear that the Palermo Open will be fielding a very strong list of players when it begins on 3 August.