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WTA Banks on Sicily model for restart

NEW YORK • Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) chief Steve Simon cannot wait for the Tour to get back up and running in Sicily next month and hopes the Palermo Open will provide a blueprint for tournament operations amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The women’s clay-court tournament, which gets under way in the Sicilian capital on Aug 3, will be the first for either the WTA or men’s ATP Tours since events were suspended in early March because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’d say there’s definitely an excitement to get back to doing what we love,” WTA chairman and chief executive Simon said via video call from the United States. “We’re going into this with great hopes. And hopefully we’ve found a solution that will allow tennis to operate in this environment.”

He said the Tour was looking to stage as many tournaments as possible this year and the second week of the patched-together calendar will see events in Prague and the United States both starting from Aug 10.

“I think our first three events – Palermo, Prague and Lexington – will certainly create that pathway for us,” he added. “Those three tournaments are going to happen unless we receive a last-minute issue from the government or local medical officials.”

The ATP’s bid to restart the men’s season at the Citi Open in Washington DC early next month has already evaporated and Simon said the WTA was fortunate that its first tournament was in Europe.

“It’s just a difference in our calendars that provided us the opportunity to begin in Europe, which I do think has been advantageous for us,” he said. “If you look around the world, the European Union is probably the most stable area outside of maybe China proper right now. That definitely helped us.

“Starting them on clay is good from a health perspective as well, a little softer surface, as they come back to play and then they can evolve into the hard-court season.”

The second and third stops on the hard-court season are in New York, at the Western & Southern Open and US Open, but there are big questions over whether they can go ahead. Simon said a final decision would be made soon.

The restart has divided opinion among the players, with some 200,000 new Covid-19 cases being reported globally every day and travel restrictions still in place.

World No. 2 Simona Halep said on Wednesday that she will play the Palermo and Prague tournaments but cast further doubt on her US Open participation.

She had hinted that she will focus on European events this year, wary of the health crisis in the United States which has left a question mark over the US Open from Aug 31.

Her commitment appeared to be geared towards the rescheduled French Open, which gets under way in Paris on Sept 27.

American great Serena Williams will return to the court for the first time since the coronavirus shutdown at the inaugural Lexington event in Kentucky. She has previously confirmed that she will compete at the US Open, where she is seeking a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title.


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