The first tournament on either the WTA or ATP Tours is due to begin in a week in Palermo – with top-10 player Simona Halep having confirmed July 11 that she would add some star power to the International-level event.
But on Sunday morning, Halep’s agent Virginia Ruzicki advised them that the world No. 2 had changed her mind.
And tournament director Oliviero Palma is … not happy.
(Embittered is undoubtedly a Google Translate fail. Substitute “disheartened” to get a better sense of it).
Palma said the reason given by Halep’s agent was the requirement for people coming to Italy from Romania and Bulgaria to self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival.
With the tournament due to start in a little over a week, the math there obviously didn’t work. And the decision to travel internationally and take the risk of playing a tournament – even with the restrictive measures the pro tours are putting in place – remains a tough decision, especially for the players who have fewer concerns about the lack of income over the last six months.
Quarantine required for Romanians
Positive COVID-19 cases have been inching up steadily in Romania for the last month.
When the new restrictions on those two countries were announced on Friday, the tournament tried to intervene by writing to Italian Minister of Health to ask for a quarantine waiver for players planning to take part in the Palermo event.
“We are convinced that the health protocols adopted by the WTA are so rigid and severe as to guarantee the safety, not only of the athletes, but of all those who will work, in various capacities , within the event,” Palma said.
The WTA is requiring a swab test four days before leaving for Palermo, another test upon arrival and another every four days after that.
There seems to be somewhat of a disconnect between their “urgent plea” and their statement Sunday that the WTA players intending to play in Palermo are exempt. At any rate, Halep’s decision is made.
The addition of the two countries doesn’t just affect tennis – it also affects some 38 Italian cyclists, per the Gazzetta dello Sport.
Halep still on for Prague
Halep, who has not yet entered the “Cincinnati” and US Open (the deadline for the Western & Southern Open, moved to the US Open bubble, is Monday), is still on – so far – for a similar tournament in Prague, Czech Republic the week of Aug. 10.
It feels as though there are going to be a fair few news items like this one in the coming weeks, as conditions are constantly changing.
The only other player who entered the Palermo main draw and has pulled out – so far – is Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Rare opportunity for small events
The news that Halep would play Palermo – at the lowest tier of WTA Tour events – was big news for the tournament.
Unless it manages to convince another top-10 player to come on short notice, its highest-ranked player will be No. 14 Johanna Konta.
The long-term shutdown because of the COVID-19 virus means players are eager to play. As well, the WTA Tour has waived its rule that if an International tournament acquires a second top-10 player, it needs to double its prize money.
That means that the Prague tournament is looking at having both Halep and No. 8 Belinda Bencic in the draw, with total prize money still just above $200,000 US.
It also means that the Lexington, KY tournament – relocated from the Citi Open, which has since cancelled the ATP portion – has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to host Serena Williams.
Williams also is planning to play doubles with sister Venus.
It is challenging enough for the events at that level to attract both fans and sponsorship. And with the added factor of the worldwide pandemic, which has led to the cancellation of the entire WTA and ATP schedule in China, and the fact that at this point no fans will be in attendance, the current climate is even more challenging.