PALERMO, Italy, Aug 4, (AP): Tour-level tennis resumed after a five-month enforced break on Monday, and players at the Palermo Ladies Open had to handle their own towels and not shake hands of opponents. The strict rules because of the coronavirus included no showers on site, and no autographs or photos with fans. Players in the singles main draw come from 16 European countries and Argentina.
A limited number of fans were allowed into the 1,500-seat stadium court and had to follow social distancing measures. They watched sixth-seeded Donna Vekić of Croatia beat Arantxa Rus of The Netherlands 6-1, 6-2 in windy conditions in the first official match – for men or women – since early March. “I’m definitely happy I didn’t forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win,” Vekić said in a video conference. “It’s a huge relief so I’m really happy right now.
“It was definitely a bit strange. I was really nervous yesterday, even more today, but after the first few games I just kind of relaxed and I was focused.” Vekić sealed a place in the second round on her second match point, breaking for the sixth time in the match when Rus hit a forehand wide. Vekić will next face Italian teenager Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who beat Polona Hercog of Slovenia 7-6 (1), 6-3 for her first victory over a player ranked in the top 50. But beyond this week Vekić has little idea if her plans could change as the pandemic continues to affect events worldwide.
Vekić is hoping to compete in the US Open, where she reached the quarter-finals last year, and the French Open as well as Rome. “Things are changing every week so I think we just have to take it week by week and try to adapt as best as we can, and hope to play as much as we can,” Vekić said. “The uncertainty gives everyone a lot of anxiety.”
The US Open is scheduled to begin Aug 31, and the French Open from Sept 27. Laura Siegemund of Germany also eased through in straight sets, beating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 6-4. Siegemund next faces either fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit or Patricia Mariaig. It was harder for Sara Errani, the only previous champion in in the draw.
The 2012 winner took nearly three hours to secure a 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 success over Sorana Cîrstea of Romania. The Italian next faces Kristýna Plíšková who upset third-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4. A third Italian is also through to the second round after Jasmine Paolini rallied from a set and a break down to beat Daria Kasatkina of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. In other results: eighth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova also recovered from a set down to beat Kristina Mladenovic 5-7, 6-0, 6-1, and seventh-seeded Dayana Yastremska triumphed 6-3, 6-4 over Sara Sorribes Tormo.
Players and anyone who comes into contact with players were tested for COVID-19 before they departed for Palermo, upon arrival, and then again every four days. Meanwhile, three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray was one of four men given wild-card entries Monday for the tuneup tournament that will be held at Flushing Meadows before the US Open. Murray won the Western & Southern Open in 2008 and 2011. The hard-court event is usually held in Cincinnati but is moving to the site of the US Open as part of efforts to hold professional tennis competition during the coronavirus pandemic. Also getting wild cards for the ATP Masters 1000 tournament: Tommy Paul, Tennys Sandgren and Frances Tiafoe.
Main-draw play will run from Aug 22-28. The US Open begins Aug 31. The 33-year-old Murray has twice had hip operations and hasn’t played an official tour match since the Davis Cup last November. He won Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016 and the US Open in 2012. The Western & Southern Open will be the first official event on the men’s tour in more than five months. Sanctioned tennis went on hiatus in March because of the COVID-19 outbreak and the women’s tour is returning this week in Palermo, Italy.