Palermo Open director hails ‘incredible’ player list: ‘It’s like a Premier’

hannahwilks in Palermo Open 24 Jul 2020
Simona Halep could be joined by fellow top-5 WTA player Karolina Pliskova at the Palermo Ladies Open (Photo by Corinne Dubreuil/ABACAPRESS.COM)

The first ATP or WTA Tour event since early March, the Palermo Ladies Open has a stellar lineup of players led by world no. 2 Simona Halep.

The Palermo Ladies Open is set to be the first elite international tournament since the ATP and WTA Tours were suspended in early March.

World no. 2 Simona Halep leads five of the top 20 currently slated to play, including world no. 14 Johanna Konta and 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova. For a WTA International-level event, which was won last year by then-world no. 82 Jil Teichmann, the field is very strong – the lowest-ranked player with direct entry into the main draw is world no. 69 Kristyna Pliskova.

Tournament director Oliviero Palma told the AP in a phone interview:

‘The entry list is incredible. It’s practically like a Premier.’

The prize money for the Palermo Ladies Open has been reduced from $250,000 to $225,500, but it has not reduced interest from top players in competing.

Palma said:

‘A top-10 player could care less about the prize money here. They’re coming just because they want to play and return to their normal lives.’

The field could get even stronger for the Palermo Open when it begins on 3 August – world no. 3 Karolina Pliskova has requested a wildcard into the tournament, but only if the US Open is cancelled.

The US Open is supposed to be played behind closed doors in New York from 31 August-13 September, but doubts persist about whether or not it will take place, especially after the cancellation of the ATP 500 Citi Open which was supposed to take place two weeks earlier in Washington, D.C. Not only is the USA the nation in the world worst hit by COVID-19, but players could be forced to quarantine on their return to Europe from the USA, which would jeopardise their ability to compete in three big clay-court events set to take place within a four-week span beginning on the day of the US Open men’s final: The Madrid Open, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome and the French Open in Paris.

Even if the US Open does take place, it seems likely that some players, especially those based in Europe, will choose to stay in Europe and prioritize clay-court tournaments over what would now be a three-week American swing of events played behind closed doors.

Palma said:

‘These tournaments are going to become more like regional events in these conditions. There’s going to be an American circuit and a European circuit.’

The Palermo Ladies Open plans to permit 280 spectators in for each session. Players will be required to abide by several rules aimed at ensuring safety: Handling their own towels instead of the ballkids fetching them; no handshakes at the end of matches and no showers for players at the venue.

Players and their teams will be administered nasal swabs to test for COVID-19 before they leave for Palermo, when they arrive and then every four days thereafter.

All eyes will be on the Palermo Open as it is the first tournament since March, especially because there have been a few high-profile exhibition events which have not gone well. The Adria Tour, organized by Novak Djokovic in the Balkans, was cancelled after a slew of players tested positive for COVID-19. The first tournament in the USA to allow spectators promptly had a player, Frances Tiafoe, test positive, while the World Team Tennis (WTT) exhibition league dismissed WTA player Danielle Collins for breaching health and safety protocols this week; Collins said she was not made aware of the rules she was dismissed for breaking.

Each tournament which takes place will be a test case for the ones that follow, as Palma is well aware:

‘It’s certainly a big honor for us but also a matter of great responsibility. We’re the first in the world and we need to experiment all of the new rules.’

The news that all 11 ATP and WTA Tour events scheduled to be played in China in 2020 have been cancelled means that playing opportunities are looking more and more scarce, especially for the WTA, which further adds to the pressure on the Palermo Open.