WTA Tour returns with Palermo Open to mark new normal amid pandemic


Nearly five months after the sport was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, Donna Vekic became the first player to win a main draw match in the COVID-19 era, beating Arantxa Rus 6-1 6-2 in the first round of the Palermo Ladies Open on Monday.

The claycourt event in Sicily marked the return of the WTA Tour which last held a tournament in March as the sport looks to limp back to a semblance of normality, albeit with strict guidelines in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Vekic’s victory was achieved in 75 minutes but just a smattering of applause rang around the small stadium from a handful of spectators that were allowed to attend the match with social distancing guidelines and temperature checks in place.

The players did not greet each other at the net either, choosing to touch rackets instead, nor did they shake hands with the referee.

They also had to manage their own towels while autographs and selfies are forbidden at the tournament which forged ahead even though an unidentified player withdrew over the weekend after testing positive for the virus.

“It was definitely a little bit strange. I was really nervous yesterday and even more today. But after the first two games, I just kind of relaxed and I was focused,” Vekic told reporters in a virtual news conference.

“It was very tricky conditions, it was very windy so the ball was a little bit all over the court… I’m just happy that I didn’t forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win. It’s a huge relief.”

Vekic struggled with her first serve but she broke Rus six times and even won eight games in a row at one point to stamp her authority on the contest against the 29-year-old Dutchwoman.

Germany’s Laura Siegemund also advanced to the second round with a 6-3 6-4 win over Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu.

However, Italy’s Sara Errani was pushed the distance by Romanian Sorana Cirstea, taking nearly three hours to win 7-5 1-6 6-4. Errani now has 179 main draw wins on clay, more than any other active player in the women’s circuit.