Palermo Open to mark the return of tennis

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ROME — Two Grand Slam champions. A finalist from last year’s French Open. A handful of top-20 players.

With second-ranked Simona Halep joined by 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and last year’s Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova, the upcoming Palermo Ladies Open will be like no other.

“The entry list is incredible. It’s practically like a Premier,” tournament director Oliviero Palma said in a phone interview with The Associated Press this week, referring to the WTA tour’s top-level tennis events.

Also entered are No. 14 Johanna Konta, No. 15 Petra Martic and No. 20 Maria Sakkari.

The reason for such a high-profile field in a small clay-court tournament usually skipped over by top players is simple: The Aug. 3-9 event marks the return of tour-level tennis following a five-month break for the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s the first official event – for men or women – since early March.

“It’s certainly a big honor for us but also a matter of great responsibility,” Palma said. “We’re the first in the world and we need to experiment all of the new rules.”

Rules such as players handling their own towels instead of being assisted by ball kids; no handshakes at the end of matches; no autographs or photos with fans; and no showers for players at the venue.

Players and anyone who comes into contact with players will be administered nasal swab tests for COVID-19 before they depart for Palermo, upon arrival, and then again every four days.

So far, the biggest problem for the tournament hasn’t been positive tests but travel restrictions, which resulted in the withdrawal of two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and have limited the field to exclusively European players.

“We knew when we decided to go forward with the tournament that there would be some unexpected developments,” Palma said. “All we can do is keep our fingers crossed.”

Halep, who is from Romania, was also put at risk of missing out, after Italy’s health minister on Friday signed an ordinance requiring all those who have in the last 14 days stayed in Romania or Bulgaria to quarantine.

Palma responded to the ordinance by making an urgent appeal to Health Minister Roberto Speranza to make a special exemption for the players competing in Palermo.

Palma revealed that third-ranked Karolina Pliskova also asked for a top-10 wild card like Halep but that the Czech player will come only if the U.S. Open is canceled.

“Otherwise she’ll head to the U.S. at the start of August,” Palma said. “These tournaments are going to become more like regional events in these conditions. There’s going to be an American circuit and a European circuit.”

On Thursday, 11 men’s and women’s tournaments planned for China in October and November – including the WTA Finals – were canceled because of the pandemic.

While Italy was the global epicenter of the virus in March and has recorded more than 35,000 deaths from COVID-19, Sicily was not hard hit and counted only 163 positive cases in its latest report.

A limited number of fans will be permitted to attend the tournament, with 280 allowed in for each session, bringing the total number of people inside the 1,500-seat stadium court – including players – to 327.

Fans and anyone else attending will also be tested for the virus.

With fewer tickets sold, tournament prize money has been reduced from $250,000 in 2019 to $222,500.

“A top-10 player could care less about the prize money here,” Palma said. “They’re coming just because they want to play and return to their normal lives.”

Sorribes Tormo beats 2nd-seeded Trevisan at Parma Open

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PARMA, Italy — Sara Sorribes Tormo beat second-seeded Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-0 in the opening round of the Parma Ladies Open – marking the third consecutive first-round loss for this year’s French Open semifinalist.

Third-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu advanced when Viktoriya Tomova retired with Begu leading 7-5, 5-1.

Danka Kovinic beat Oceane Dodin 6-1, 3-6, 6-4 and will next face 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens.

Also on the red clay courts, Mayar Sherif of Egypt eliminated fifth-seeded Anna Bondar 7-5, 6-4; Elisabetta Cocciaretto defeated seventh-seeded Nuria Parrizas Diaz 7-5, 6-1; and Italian wild card Matilde Paoletti earned her first tour-level win by beating Romanian qualifier Gabriela Lee 6-4, 3-6, 6-0.

Nakashima takes first ATP Tour title at San Diego

San Diego Open - Finals
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SAN DIEGO – Brandon Nakashima earned his first ATP Tour victory in his hometown, beating friend and fellow Southern Californian Marcos Giron 6-4, 6-4 in the San Diego Open final.

“It’s super-special, something you dream of, but to have it happen in my hometown with all my friends and family here, it’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Nakashima, who had two previous finals appearances. “I hope there are many more moments like this to come.”

Nakashima, a 21-year-old who grew up in San Diego and trained extensively at the event’s site as a junior, clinched the opening set in only 30 minutes. The second set, filled with lengthy rallies, took nearly an hour.

Giron, the No. 5 seed and former NCAA title winner from UCLA, wasn’t able to fend off Nakashima’s persistent ground strokes and well-placed serves. Nakashima had eight aces, six in the first set.

Serving at 5-4 in the second set, Nakashima tallied the match’s deciding two points when Giron pushed an easy volley into the net, followed by Nakashima’s second-serve ace.

He earned $93,090, about half of what received for reaching the third round of the U.S. Open in early September.

Nakashima, who was ranked No. 69 on the ATP Tour, moved up to 48, his highest ranking in nearly three years on tour. Despite the loss, Giron moved up to 53 from 58.

Not only was the singles title claimed by an American, the doubles title also taken by an American duo as the second-seeded pair of Nathaniel Lammons and Jackson Withrow defeated Australians Jason Kubler and Luke Saville 7-6 (5), 6-2.

The $612,00 event was held at Barnes Tennis Center, which next hosts the $757,900 WTA 500 San Diego Open, Oct. 8-16. That will feature 16 of the world’s top-ranked 20 women pros, led by No. 1 Iga Swiatek.