Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens withdraw from U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Two more top-10 women — Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens — will miss the U.S. Open, joining No. 1-ranked Ash Barty in skipping the Grand Slam tennis tournament during the coronavirus pandemic.

The fifth-ranked Svitolina, a Ukrainian who was a semifinalist at Flushing Meadows a year ago, posted Friday on social media that she doesn’t “feel comfortable to travel to US without putting my team and myself at high risk.”

No. 7 Bertens, who is Dutch, wrote on Instagram that one of her concerns is the need to be quarantined upon returning to Europe after the U.S. Open, which runs from Aug. 31 to Sept. 13 and will not have any spectators.

The French Open — where Bertens reached the semifinals in 2016 — is scheduled to begin Sept. 27. She also wants to play on the clay-court tournament in Rome before heading to Paris.

“The situation around COVID-19 is still that worrying and the health of everyone and the control over this virus is priority,” Bertens wrote.

Defending men’s champion Rafael Nadal also has said he won’t play at the U.S. Open, citing concerns about traveling during the pandemic. Also out of the field: Roger Federer, who is sitting out the rest of the season after two operations on his right knee.

Stan Wawrinka, Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils are among other men not going to New York.

The professional tennis tours went on hiatus in March because of the pandemic. The women’s circuit returned to action this week in Palermo, Italy; the men are scheduled to begin play later this month.

Palermo sets example for return of tour-level tennis

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ROME — The only player who tested positive for the coronavirus was withdrawn from the tournament without ever setting foot at the venue.

Another player was admonished for venturing outside the event bubble and posting a selfie on social media showing her posing in front of a downtown fountain.

Former French Open finalist Sara Errani and Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan received verbal warnings from the chair umpire for throwing their wristbands and a visor to kids in the crowd following victories.

Local organizers and the WTA Tour have been vigilant about abiding by strict health protocols in order to hold this week’s Palermo Ladies Open, the first tour-level tennis tournament for men or women in five months.

“If this was the way all European citizens were being checked, the coronavirus would no longer be a problem,” tournament director Oliviero Palma told The Associated Press in an phone interview before Friday’s quarterfinal matches.

“We’re showing that it’s possible to restart,” Palma added. “I think this experience can be repeated anywhere. The important thing is to follow the protocols very carefully.”

The protocols require players and staff members to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and then again every four days; players to handle their own towels; only three ball collectors per court and all of them at least 18 years old; players to wear masks as they enter and leave the court; and all media interviews to be conducted electronically.

“It definitely is different,” said fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit. “I literally haven’t left the hotel to go anywhere but the court. . That’s what the situation needs right now.”

Players will encounter a similar, albeit on a much larger scale, bubble atmosphere at the upcoming U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 31 and will be preceded by a warmup tournament at the same venue in New York.

“It’s going to be a lot longer in the States,” Kontaveit said of the bubble. “The key is just to find something to do and keep yourself entertained as much as you can.”

As the first tournament back, Palermo has served as a test for the events that follow. For example, there was already a change in shower protocols.

Whereas initially players and coaches were told to bathe only at the hotel, organizers quickly changed the rule when they realized that putting sweaty players into tournament cars could be unhealthy and unsanitary.

Players and coaches can now shower at the venue in different locker rooms. Only two people can enter any locker room at the same time.

“Obviously nobody can have a police officer hovering over their shoulder 24 hours a day, because that’s impossible,” Errani said. “But if we’re all able to be responsible and handle ourselves well we can move forward.

“If everyone starts to go off doing crazy things and doing whatever they want,” Errani added. “That’s when the problems start.”

In June, top-ranked Novak Djokovic and several other players tested positive for the virus after playing in a series of exhibition matches he organized in Serbia and Croatia with zero social distancing.

“As the first tournament back, Palermo has done a great job. The safety element is there,” said Italian player Jasmine Paolini. “Let’s hope we can continue like this without glitches in other tournaments.”

When an unnamed player tested positive on the first day of qualifying last weekend, she was immediately moved to a facility designated for asymptomatic patients with COVID-19. Then once she returned consecutive positive tests, she was sent home.

“It was caught right away. It means that the tests work and the protocol is correct,” Palma said. “I would have been worried if we hadn’t discovered anything immediately and found out later.

“That’s the whole point of the tests: to intercept a positive before it can create any damage.”

Likewise, Errani and Juvan were spoken to by the umpire after throwing items including a visor and wristbands to the crowd, which is being limited to less than 300 spectators per day.

“I understand their concern but it was actually like an instinct,” Juvan said after upsetting second-seeded Marketa Vondrousova. “Maybe I won’t do it the next few days.”

The next WTA tournament in Europe will be held in Prague next week.

“A large part of the players are coming from Palermo,” Palma said. “So they’re going there negative, which gives Prague a head start.”

Martić, Kontaveit, Giorgi rally for wins in Palermo

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PALERMO, Sicily — Top-seeded Petra Martić rallied past Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 to reach the Palermo Ladies Open quarterfinals Thursday in the first tournament following a five-month break due to the coronavirus.

“The struggle was real out there today,” Martić said after the 2 ½-hour match.“She’s not the type of player I like to play. She plays really fast, hits really flat and low. And especially on these (clay) courts it can be tricky.

“Overall I didn’t really enjoy myself out there. But I realized right away that it was not going to be easy and I was going to have to fight.”

Martić will next face another qualifier, Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

Also advancing was fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit, who also had to come from behind to defeat Laura Siegemund 3-6, 6-2, 6-2. Kontaveit’s quarterfinal opponent will be Italian wild-card entry Elisabetta Cocciaretto.

In yet another three-set comeback win, Italy’s Camila Giorgi eliminated Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Players and officials for the tournament are being tested every four days for COVID-19 and one player who tested positive withdrew over the weekend. New protocols include fewer ball kids, a limited number of fans and no post-match handshakes between opponents.