Five months since the last professional tennis tournament took place, the task of restarting the WTA Tour relies on a tournament taking place on the Italian island of Sicily.
The Palermo Open officially marks the return of WTA tennis following its lengthy suspension due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. All eyes will be placed upon the event which has already experienced its fair share of obstacles. Wimbledon champion Simona Halep withdrew due to ‘travelling anxiety’ despite being assured that she will be exempt from quarantine rules. On top of that, a player in the qualifying draw pulled out after testing positive for the Coronavirus over the weekend. These scenarios are the ones set to become the new normal for the rest of the year at least.
Overseeing events taking place this week is long-time tournament director Oliviero Palma, who admits that ‘everything is different’ in 2020. Due to the current climate, the number of people allowed to enter the 1500-capacity centre court has been slashed to 350 and the prize money pot has been cut by $27,500. Nevertheless, the 31st edition of the tournament boasts a strong field with every seed being in the world’s top 30. Croatia’s Petra Martic is the highest ranked at 15th.
“The first tournament after the suspension is more concerned with the safety aspect firstly. Sport comes after,” Palma told ubitennis.net. “Even though we had little time, we are being able to control and foresee all kinds of situations.’
“The world has been waiting for the first tournament post- Covid with the public and to understand whether we can go back to normal, although with all due precautions.’
“Previous tasks do not count now, this is not the 31st Palermo Ladies Open, this is the first tournament after lockdown. Everything is different.”
Even with balls being hit on the courts at the Country Time Club, which is the venue of the Palermo Open, it is evident that there is a lot of uncertainty in the air. Within the past two weeks all events in China have been scrapped, Japan has lost its premier women’s event and the Madrid Open is on the brink of being cancelled. Meanwhile, in Italy the country’s biggest tournament in Rome scheduled for September has been warned not to welcome fans to the event.
Given the circumstances, the fact Palermo is happening at all is an achievement in itself. Palma says his event has been able to go ahead due to a lower number of cases of COVID-19 and what he describes as ‘faith’ from the local government.
“The Sicilian government had and has faith in the 31st Palermo Ladies Open and opened the Centre Court to a limited number of spectators, exactly to test this opportunity. I’m so concentrated on my tournament I haven’t had the possibility to follow Internazionali d’italia,” he said.
Thousands of euros will be lost
Palma doesn’t sugarcoat the fact his event isn’t taking place without a significant economic hit. In a recent interview with Reuters he said the event will ‘bear losses’ in order for the Tour to start again. But how significant will these losses be?
“This is an act of love for tennis. We didn’t look at the balance sheet, this year,” he explains to UbiTennis.
“Our marketing experts explained to us that we will have to evaluate the revenues over this and the next year. Losses, however, are estimated to be around 50,000 euros.”
Instead of dwelling on the financial turmoil that many other tennis tournaments are also facing, Palma and his team hope to lead the way when it comes to their COVID-19 testing. Players undergo two types of tests called polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and Serological.
“Thanks to the strictness of protocols, we successfully intercepted a positive case,” Palma said in reference to Saturday’s announcement.
“The protocol dictates that players arrive in Palermo having already undergone (about 4 days before) a PCR test. As soon as they arrive, they do a serologic and a PCR test. They then go to their hotel room, which they can’t leave until we have the test result, normally within12 hours. As she receives the negative result, she leaves isolation, receives the badge and can start training.”
The player who reportedly tested positive was Bulgaria’s Viktoriya Tomova who did not show any symptoms at the time. Tomova was the only player to withdraw from qualifying due to ‘illness’ but there has been no official confirmation.
Tomova highlights the complexities faced by players and tournaments with guidelines being constantly updated. For example, in an interview by The Hindustan Times on July 29th quoted Palma saying that players could ‘have a tour of the city if they wish to, since the virus is barely circulating.’ However, since the interview his view on this matter has somewhat changed.
“WTA protocols do not encourage tourism or city tours; on the contrary, they are highly discouraged,” Palma points out.
Whatever happens this week, Palermo will forever remain the event which kick-started the world of tennis during the troublesome COVID-19 pandemic. As other tournaments start to disappear, the WTA and ATP have a lot of space to fill during the final quarter of this season. So what about having a second Palermo Open or an equivalent in the region later this year?
“Why not! We would only need to see the conditions,” Palma concluded.
(EXCLUSIVE) Ricardas Berankis’ Coach On Wimbledon Showdown With Rafael Nadal
Dirk Hordorff speaks to UbiTennis about the world No.106 and his chances against the second seed.
Ricardas Berankis is no stranger to Wimbledon as he marks the 12th anniversary of his first-ever main draw win at the tournament after coming through three rounds of qualifying.
A stand-out player in his younger years, the Lithuanian topped the world junior rankings and won the US Open boys title back in 2007 when he defeated Jerzy Janowicz in the final. Transitioning to the pro level was never straightforward for Berankis who is now 32-year-old. Nevertheless, he has made his impression on the Tour with runs to two ATP Tour finals in 2012 (Los Angeles) and 2017 (Moscow). He also won the 2015 US Men’s Clay Court doubles title in Houston alongside Teymuraz Gabashvili.
Today Berankis is ranked 106th in the world, which is 56 places below his career-high. His best performance on the ATP Tour so far this season was in Abu Dubai when he came through qualifying to reach the quarter-finals before losing to Denis Shapovalov. He also reached the final of a Challenger event in Lille.
At Wimbledon this year he started his campaign with a straight-sets win over former semifinalist Sam Querrey. Making it only the fourth time in his career he has won a main draw match at the tournament. His reward is a showdown on Thursday with the formidable Rafael Nadal who is seeking a historic 23rd major title and his third in a row. Nadal defeated Francisco Cerundolo in his opening match.
So can Berankis trouble Nadal on the grass?
The best person to ask is Germany’s Dirk Hordorff who coaches Berankis. The veteran coach has also previously collaborated with the likes of Rainer Schuettler, Lars Burgsmüller, Yen-Hsun Lu, Kristian Pless, Sergiy Stakhovsky, and Vasek Pospisil.
During an email exchange with UbiTennis, Hordorff shared his thoughts about Berankis’ upcoming clash with Nadal.
UBITENNIS: It wasn’t until Melbourne this year that Ricardas played Nadal on the Tour for the first time. He lost the match 6-2, 7-5. What did his team learn from that experience?
HIRDORFF: I was not in Melbourne, but I coached unsuccessfully in a lot of matches against Rafa. He is next to Novak (Djokovic) over so many years as a true champion and a great person outside the court. You learn every match against him and Ricardas is ready for this match.
UBITENNIS: When it comes to playing a member of the Big Three, how do you as a coach go about dealing with Berankis’ mentality?
HIRDORFF: Ricardas played a good first round against Sam Querrey. Nevertheless, to play Rafa is a different issue. You need to concentrate on your abilities and not worry about history.
UBITENNIS: Nadal was sternly tested during his opening match. Does this in any way give a confidence boost towards Berankis or do you think it is irrelevant?
HIRDORFF: Every match starts at zero. What Rafa played yesterday doesn’t affect Ricardas’ match. Anyway, Rafa won his first round quite solidly against a good upcoming player.
UBITENNIS: Whilst the odds might be against Ricardas, it isn’t impossible that he could defeat Nadal. What will the key areas be for him to focus on during their match? (e.g. return position, use of slice etc).
HIRDORFF: Ricardas needs to focus on his abilities and take his fine form from the first round in this match. Rafa is a complete player, so you need to perform well in all aspects of the game.
UBITENNIS: What is the most difficult thing about playing Nadal on the tour?
HORDORFF: He is a complete player with a lot of special strengths. Strong serve, good backhand, fast, perfect coordinate and no weak parts in his game.
UBITENNIS: Ricardas might be 32 but he has shown some good results on the Tour (runner-up at a Challenger event in Lille and QF in Dubai). Given the trend of players playing later into their careers, is his best yet to come?
HIRDORFF: Ricardas had to deal with a lot of health problems. I am sure that the best part of his career is yet to come for him.
EXCLUSIVE: Ana Ivanovic On Wimbledon Memories, Players To Watch And Her Admiration For Williams
The former world No.1 takes part in a special Q&A with UbiTennis ahead of the Wimbledon Championships.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of Ana Ivanović’s best-ever run at the Wimbledon Championships.
Just weeks after reaching her first major final at the French Open, Ivanović scored back-to-back wins over Nadia Petrova and Nicole Vaidišová (who she saved three match points against) to reach the semi-finals. She was eventually knocked out of the tournament by Venus Williams who went on to clinch the title. In total she played in the Wimbledon main draw 12 times and achieved a win-loss record of 24-12.
Throughout her career Ivanović won 15 WTA titles, including the 2008 French Open. She also reached the final of another eight events. She holds the honors of being the first woman in history to win a major title whilst representing Serbia and the only player from her country to have held the No.1 position on the WTA Tour. Ivanović’s period of 12 weeks at the top is a longer streak than Williams, Garbine Mugurza and Karolina Pliskova.
This December marks the sixth anniversary of when Ivanović announced her retirement from tennis at the age of 29 following a series of physical issues. At the time WTA CEO Steve Simon hailed her as a “true champion and a great ambassador for the sport of women’s tennis.”
Leading up to this year’s Wimbledon Championships, UbiTennis managed to catch up with the former world No.1 who is married to former football star Bastian Schweinsteiger and has two young children. Through an email exchange, she speaks about life as an ex-player and gives her views on the upcoming Wimbledon Championships. She also reveals her desire to remain connected with tennis in the future but would she consider a coaching role on the Tour?
UBITENNIS: This December will mark six years since you announced your retirement. What do you miss the most about playing on the Tour?
IVANOVIĆ: To be honest the most I miss is the excitement of playing at the big courts in front of the fans and crowds. I have many special and unforgettable memories. I miss a lot that feeling. Besides that, the traveling and competing in different countries was always something I enjoyed.
UBITENNIS: Since retiring, how closely do you follow the sport now?
IVANOVIĆ: I still follow – obviously not as close as when I was playing – but I still have some friends on tour, so I like to see how they are doing, and I like to see new faces and to see new exciting players.
UBITENNIS: Wimbledon begins on Monday and you played in the main draw 12 times during your career. What are your happiest memories of the tournament?
IVANOVIĆ: Of course, my happiest memory of Wimbledon is reaching semifinal there, that was definitely a very special year for me. But also, I do remember one very special match for me, I played against Nadia Petrova, we had 7 rain delays, and we played from 11 in the morning until 7pm, and we manage to finish just before another rainstorm. That was definitely a unique experience and something I will always remember.
UBITENNIS: What was the biggest difficulty for you when it came to switching from playing on the clay to grass within such a relatively short time?
IVANOVIĆ: The biggest difficulty for me personally when it comes to switching from clay court to grass court were the movements. Clay court was always my favorite. I have enjoyed moving on clay and sliding which let me feel free. On the grass you sometimes feel like you didn’t have as good grip – at least me personally, so I think that kind of adjustment of timing of the movement was for me the most difficult.
UBITENNIS: This year’s women’s draw is headed by Iga Swiatek who is currently on a 35-match winning streak. How impressed are you by Swiatek and who do you think is her biggest threat at Wimbledon?
IVANOVIĆ: I think Iga has been playing really well, and she is also very composed, I think she handles her nerves well. As we all know, Tennis – or actually every sport – is becoming more and more mental game next to the physical and talent game.
I think maybe Serena has a chance, Ons also, because she uses lots of drop shots, on the grass, that can be tough to play against. As well as Angelique Kerber she loves to play on grass, she won Wimbledon before, so I hope she does well.
UBITENNIS: Wimbledon will see the return of Serena Williams to the tournament. How impressed are you that she continues to play at the age of 40? Has this ever given you the temptation to return to competitive action as you are six years younger than Serena?
IVANOVIĆ: It is amazing to see Serena back, I know she loves to play on the grass. I really admire her for everything she achieved and to still compete at the high level of sport at the age of 40 – it is incredible. I am really looking forward to see how she will do this year. For me personally to come back to competitive sport I don’t see myself in that direction. I have other visions and dreams and something that I want to do, to also give something back to society.
UBITENNIS: As for the men’s draw, who are you most excited about watching? Do you think anybody other than Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could win?
IVANOVIĆ: Novak and Rafa are both playing really well. I think Novak enjoys playing on grass more than Rafa does, and he is defending his title. Obviously, it is always exciting to watch them as they already have so many Grand Slams, and competing for more.
Others than them, there are many interesting players at the moment and I always say that new upcoming players can surprise the top players in early rounds while they are still kind of warming up. Players like Novak and Rafa gain more confidence and strength when they come further and further in the tournament, so it is more difficult for younger players to take them out in the semis or finals especially when it is played best of five sets at the Grand Slams.
UBITENNIS: You had such an impressive career as a tennis player, are you ever tempted to pass on what you learnt to others in the future as either a coach or advisor on the Tour?
IVANOVIĆ: I don’t really see myself as a coach on tour, but I do want to stay involved, because Tennis has been my life. I have been playing since I was five. I am happy to share my experience and give advise but definitely not as a coach.
EXCLUSIVE: Daria Kasatkina’s Coach – Swiatek Will Lose One Day, So Why Not At The French Open?
Following the Kasatkina’s milestone win at Roland Garros, her mentor Carlos Martinez speaks exclusively to Ubitennis.
At the age of 25 Daria Kasatkina is relishing in her best-ever run at a Grand Slam tournament after reaching the semi-finals of the French Open without dropping a set.
Kasatkina, who has been ranked as high as 10th in the world, has been in impressive form throughout the tournament so far after dropping a total of just 14 games in her first four matches. To put that into perspective, only three players have conceded fewer games in the women’s draw to reach the last eight of the French Open since 2000. She encountered a slightly trickier test in Wednesday’s quarter-final where she ousted compatriot Veronika Kudermetova 6-4, 7-6(5). A player who earlier in the clay season was runner-up at the Istanbul Open before going on to win the women’s doubles title in Rome.
The world No.20 is now through to the last four of a major for the first time on her 26th attempt. Overseeing her performance is Spanish Coach Carlos Martinez who has been a fixture in her team for three years. Martinez has a wealth of experience in the sport. Besides being a former professional player himself, he has also guided the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marc Lopez, Kateryna Kozlova and Feliciano Lopez.
“Dasha is generally doing well in this tournament. She’s managing her emotions very good because it is not easy,” Martinez replied when asked about Kasatkina’s French Open run so far.
“At the beginning of the week she had a very good draw because she played against a lucky loser and then in the second round she played against a qualified ranked 200th in the world. She knew she had to win these two matches and that it is not easy to manage her nerves.’
“From that point she started playing much better. Against (Shelby) Rogers she played a very smart match and the exact same against (Camila) Giorgi. Today (in the quarter-finals) was very emotional for her because she played against a fellow Russian.”
According to data from Flashscore, Kasakina has won between 57% and 76% of her first service points during her five matches played at the French Open. Furthermore, she has managed to save 10 out of 19 break points she has faced so far. Whilst they are not flawless statistics, it is the consistency that is bringing her success.
“She is managing very well. She is not playing unbelievable but she’s making very good decisions,” Martinez explains. “This is the work she has been doing in the last couple of weeks during her clay court preparation. We are very happy with the result.”
“(But) we want more. As I told her the train doesn’t come many times and once it passes you have to then catch it.”
Seeking her place in a Grand Slam final for the first time, Kasatkina next takes on Iga Swiatek. A player who has been her nemesis in recent months. She has already played the world No.1 three times in 2022 and lost all of them in straight sets. On the other hand, Kasatkina did beat the Pole in three sets last year on the grass at Eastbourne.
Undoubtedly she will be the underdog in the semi-final given the dominance by her upcoming opponent in recent weeks. Since 2000, only the Williams sisters have won more matches in a row than Swiatek on the WTA Tour.
“Iga is the player who is in the best shape at the moment. She has won her past 33 matches so it won’t be easy. But the thing I said to Dasha is that one day she has to lose, so why not tomorrow? (semi-finals day),” Martinez said of the upcoming match.
“Dasha has the game to try to win. I think it is going to be a good battle. We have nothing to lose and a lot of things to win. So I think it will be an interesting match and I hope that it is going to be a tough battle.’
There is also an extra incentive for Kasakina to win. Should she progress to the final she will enter the top 10 once again for the first time since January 2019.
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