ROME, July 25: Two Grand Slam champions. A finalist from last year�s French Open. A handful of top-20 players.
With second-ranked Simona Halep joined by 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and last year�s Roland Garros finalist Markta Vondrouov, the upcoming Palermo Ladies Open will be like no other.
The entry list is incredible. It�s practically like a Premier, tournament director Oliviero Palma said in a phone interview with The Associated Press this week, referring to the WTA tour�s top-level tennis events.
Also entered are No. 14 Johanna Konta, No. 15 Petra Martic and No. 20 Maria Sakkari.
The reason for such a high-profile field in a small clay-court tournament usually skipped over by top players is simple: The Aug. 3-9 event marks the return of tour-level tennis following a five-month break for the coronavirus pandemic.
It�s the first official event for men or women since early March.
It�s certainly a big honor for us but also a matter of great responsibility, Palma said.
We�re the first in the world and we need to experiment all of the new rules.
Rules such as players handling their own towels instead of being assisted by ball kids; no handshakes at the end of matches; no autographs or photos with fans; and no showers for players at the venue.
Players and anyone who comes into contact with players will be administered nasal swab tests for COVID-19 before they depart for Palermo, upon arrival, and then again every four days.
So far, the biggest problem for the tournament hasn�t been positive tests but travel restrictions, which resulted in the withdrawal of two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and have limited the field to exclusively European players.
We knew when we decided to go forward with the tournament that there would be some unexpected developments, Palma said. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed. � AP