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Palermo Open left ‘embittered’ as Halep withdraws due to travel concerns

hannahwilks in Palermo Open 27 Jul 2020
Simona Halep’s decision to withdraw from the Palermo Open has met with ire from the tournament (PA Images)

Simona Halep has pulled out of the Palermo Open, leaving tournament director Oliviero Palma ‘profoundly disappointed’.

The Palermo Ladies Open, beginning 3 August, is set to mark the comeback of high-level tennis after nearly five months. It will be the first ATP or WTA Tour event since early March.

World no. 2 Halep was set to lead a very strong field which included Johanna Konta and Marketa Vondrousova among top-20 players, which tournament director Palma had jubilantly hailed as ‘like a Premier’ in an interview released on Friday.

But later in the day came the news that the Italian Health Minister had signed an order requiring any travellers from Romania or Bulgaria to quarantine upon arrival, in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases in those countries.

The Palermo Open said that players were exempt from those restrictions, but Halep still announced her withdrawal from the event, citing the rise in COVID-19 cases in Romania and ‘anxieties around international air travel’.

 

The response from Palma was scathing. The press release issued by the tournament read:

‘We found out with great bitterness the decision of world number 2 to cancel her participation to the 31st Palermo Ladies Open …

‘Yesterday we were optimistic, and we had informed Halep’s staff about the fact that professional players are not obliged to quarantine. Regional assessor of Health Ruggero Razza … had directly sent to Halep an official communication explaining how the Ordinance of the Ministry of Health was not to be applied to workers, therefore neither to professional tennis players.

‘Nevertheless, Halep’s staff only communicated us the final decision, frustrating all our efforts. We are embittered and profoundly disappointed.’

Halep is now scheduled to play her first tournament since winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February at the Prague Open from 10-16 August.

World no. 14 Konta is now the highest-ranked player entered in the Palermo Ladies Open – but there could be more bad news for the tournament, with The Times reporting that Konta will ‘likely’ play the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Kentucky, USA instead. Serena Williams and Sloane Stephens are already entered to play in Lexington.

World no. 3 Karolina Pliskova has been mentioned in connection with the Palermo Ladies Open, asking them to reserve a top-10 wildcard for her – but only if the US Open is cancelled.

At the time of writing the US Open is still scheduled to take place behind closed doors in New York from 31 August-13 September, preceded by the Western & Southern Open from 22-28 August (relocated from its usual home in Cincinnati to Flushing Meadows for one year only). But there is widespread scepticism about whether or not it will actually take place, given the USA’s world-leading COVID-19 numbers. If it does happen, it’s not certain how many of the top players, especially those based in Europe, might choose to skip it and concentrate on the forthcoming European clay-court season instead.

Regardless of whether or not the Palermo Open field does include a top-10 player, the tournament is guaranteed to attract strong interest, both from tennis fans eager to see the sport return and from other stakeholders in the sport who view it as a test case for future ATP and WTA tournaments. The news that both the Citi Open in Washington D.C. and all 11 ATP and WTA tournaments scheduled in China for the remainder of the season have been cancelled increase the pressure even further.