After almost five months of suspension professional Tennis will return this coming week, with several WTA players set to be in action on clay at the Palermo Ladies Open.
It was in early March that the last tournaments on the WTA Tour, held in Lyon and Monterrey took place, and with the ATP Tour suspended for a further three weeks all of the tennis community will be looking to see how tournaments fair with no crowds, limited staff and various other restrictions pan out. The tournament was delayed from its original spot in July having returned to the WTA Tour in 2019 following a five-season absence.
The tournament has already been hit by the news that an unnamed WTA player tested positive for the virus shortly before qualifying began, and also attracted attention due to the withdrawal of Simona Halep. The world number two had originally received a wildcard into the tournament but withdrew due to safety fears amidst the pandemic, much to the chagrin of tournament director Oliviero Palma. The tournament has also been hit by withdrawals from the likes of Johanna Konta, and Grand Slam champions Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Ostapenko.
However the field is still a strong one, with all the top eight seeds ranked inside the top 30. Petra Martic and French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova are the top two seeds, with Maria Sakkari and Anett Kontaveit the third and fourth seeds respectively. Elise Mertens, Donna Vekic, Dayana Yastremska, and Ekaterina Alexandrova. Defending champion Jill Tecihmann and 2019 runner-up Kiki Bertens are both absent.
Though it’s hard to judge how the tournament will pan out and make any predictions with no form to judge on after months of inaction, I’ll certainly give it my best shot.
Projected Q/F: (1st) Petra Martic vs (5th) Elise Mertens
If 2019’s clay court season is anything to go, Martic could be one to watch this season. The Croatian won her first career title on the surface in Istanbul and went on to reach the last eight at the French Open.
The top seed does not have any easy first round match, however, against Alison Van Uytvanck, with fifth seed Mertens also a consistent clay court player. Mertens should see off a qualifier in the opening round, though Daria Kasatkina could be a threat in the second round.
Prediction: Martic def Mertens
Projected Q/F: (4th) Anett Kontaveit vs (6th) Donna Vekic
Kontaveit reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open earlier this year, though clay may not be the best surface for the hard-hitting Estonian. The fourth seed should come through her first round, though dangerous clay courter Laura Siegemund could prove a tough test in the second round.
Vekic is one of many players that has been making a lot of progress in recent seasons, though clay may not also be her best surface. The Croatian does have a decent draw early on, with Arantxa Rus and most likely Polona Hercog manageable tests in her first two rounds.
Prediction: Siegemund def Vekic
Projected Q/F: (8th) Ekaterina Alexandrova vs (3rd) Maria Sakkari
Alexandrova was another player in good form before the enforced suspension, winning her first tour title in Shenzhen, and she is arguably drawn in the pick of the first round ties here against Kristina Mladenovic. The winner will likely be the favourite to win their second round clash to reach the last eight.
Whilst the Russian is slowly making her way up the rankings, Sakkari has been one of the most consistent players on tour in recent seasons. The Greek won on clay in Rabat last season and has a good first round draw against Krystina Pliskova. Former French Open runner-up and home favourite Sara Errani could be her second round opponent.
Prediction: Sakkari def Alexandrova
Projected Q/F: (7th) Dayana Yastremska vs (2nd) Marketa Vondrousova
Yastremska attracted a lot of attention during the tour’s suspension, not always for the right reasons, so will be looking for a strong return here. The Ukranian has a great game but that might not translate that well to clay, with a tricky first round test against Sara Sorribes Torno waiting for her. Another rising star in Tamara Zidanesk could await in the second round.
Not many players had a clay court season as good as Vondrousova last summer, with the Czech’s most notable result being unseeded during her run to the French Open final. The second seed has struggled with injury and inconsistency since then, though an opening round against a qualifier should be able to help her ease into the tournament. An interesting second round against the mercurial Camila Giorgi could be on the cards for her.
Prediction: Vondrousova def Sorribes Tormo
Martic def Siegemund
Sakkari def Vondrousova
Sakkari def Martic