The 31st Ladies Palermo Open will go down in history as the first professional tournament to be staged following the suspension of both the WTA and ATP tours in March due to the coronavirus pandemic, and France’s Fiona Ferro will forever be linked to this event by virtue of becoming the first player to lift a trophy after beating Anett Kontaveit, 6-2 7-5, in the final on Sunday evening.
This title means a lot, especially after five tough months of practice. I was already feeling so happy just to be back on court and competing, so this is an even nicer way to finish the week with the win... I did it very well this week and it will be a goal for sure in the next week. Fiona Ferro
“I think it was my best match of the week,” Ferro said. “I wasn’t really feeling pressure. It was a tough match because she’s a really consistent player who doesn’t give you too many points.
“But I had a good intensity throughout the whole match.”
Despite the absence of the big names, all eyes were on Palermo to see if the health measures were sufficient for a safe return to competition, which had been suspended for five months.
A player tested positive for COVID-19 on arrival in Sicily and withdrew from the tournament, having stayed in her hotel while awaiting the results.
Controls were strict, with only 300 spectators allowed at the clay-court venue, which has a daily capacity of 1,500.
Following a gruelling three set semi-final win over Camila Giorgi the day before, Ferro found the same energy in the final, hitting the deck firing and racing through the opening set before clawing herself back from 5-3 down in the second to close out the trophy match in straight sets.
Ranked 53, the 23-year-old finished the match with 51 winners against 24 unforced errors. while Kontaveit produced phenomenal numbers herself – 40 to 23.
“I can’t really explain it [turning the second set around], but it was a very tough match and very close,” Ferro said later. “Anett is a really tough player, so I had to fight for every point.
“In the second set I just kept fighting for every point.”
It was Ferro’s second WTA title of her career, having won another International-level clay-court title in Lausanne, Switzerland last July.
The win over the No 22-ranked Kontaveit was also the second-biggest win of her career, after defeating a No 16-ranked Wang Qiang last year in the second round of Strasbourg, also an International-level clay-court event.
As a result Ferro is making her Top 50 debut thsi week, projected to rise to No 44 in the world.
Despite being unseeded and ranked outside the top 50, Ferro entered the tournament in excellent form, having won a string of matches during a series of FFT-organised exhibition events for France’s top professional players, and she only dropped just one set in her 5 match wins in Palermo.
“This title means a lot, especially after five tough months of practice,” she said.
“I was already feeling so happy just to be back on court and competing, so this is an even nicer way to finish the week with the win.
“I think these exhibition matches [in France] showed me how consistent and calm I can be on court, so I just tried to do that on every match, every point.
“Just have a good attitude also. I think it’s something that’s a little bit new for me – not to talk, not to get angry. I did it very well this week and it will be a goal for sure in the next week.”
That will be in Prague where Ferro opens her campaign against Spain’s Aliona Bolsova as the WTA Tour continues its clay-court swing through Europe.
Kontaveit, an Australian Open quarter-finalist this year, and while Ferro improved to 2-0 in WTA finals, the Estonian is now 1-5, her lone title coming on the grass courts of ’s-Hertogenbosch in 2017.
The No 4 seed nevertheless had an incredible run in Palermo, including an impressive 6-2 6-4 upset of top seed Petra Martic in the semi-finals.
“I want to congratulate Fiona for playing such a great match today,” Kontaveit said. “You really kicked my butt today, so congratulations, what a great week!”
The doubles final was played earlier in the day and saw the Dutch-Slovenian pair Arantxa Rus & Tamara Zidansek edge out Elisabetta Cocciaretto & Martina Trevisan in a close two-setter, 7-5 7-5.
And so the tour continues with WTA events in Prague and Lexington, with the US Open starting on 31 August.
The Prague Open headlines the World No 2 and two-time major champion Simona Halep, who is joined by top-30 players Petra Martic, Elise Mertens, Dayana Yastremska and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
After dealing with anxiety about playing Palermo, Halep has yet to commit to playing the US Open in three weeks ,or Cincinnati, but the fact she is in Prague signals her interest in playing, and increases the chances of a stateside visit.
The Romanian heads a decent field, and the former No 1’s path to a 20th career WTA title will take her through Polona Hercog in the opener, potentially Pavlyuchenkova in the quarters and Yastremska in the semis.
Among the other names, Canadian Eugenie Bouchard is the lone player to have made the trip from North America to Europe to play an official event, while Belinda Bencic is among the withdrawals for the event.
.Wildcarded into the draw, Bouchard opens against the No 8 seed Veronika Kudermetova.
Prague, along with Lexington, mark the second week of play on the pro tennis circuit since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
Yet a more star-studded field has assembled across the Atlantic at a new tournament in Kentucky, the WTA Lexington Open, which is the first event played in the United States after the break, where several big names begin their hard-court preparations leading into the US Open.
Serena Williams heads the draw and could play Venus Williams in the second round, provided her sister beats former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka in her opener.
“It feels good to be back. I’m not sure how it feels yet to be competitive because it’s just so different,” Serena said.
“I think the break was something that I just loved and needed. I’ve been training more than ever.
“[Lexington] is also a good opportunity for me to test the water a little bit.”
Whoever comes through that segment could face in the quarter-finals 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens, the 7th seed.
Also appearing in Lexington will be top-four seeds Aryna Sabalenka, Johanna Konta and Amanda Anisimova, plus AO 2020 quarter-finalist Ons Jabeur and another former World No 2 Vera Zvonareva, a wildcard.
Britain’s Johanna Konta takes on Marie Bouzkova in her opener, the player she lost to in her last professional match in Monterrey.
Konta recently played in the Battle of the Brits, defeating Katie Boulter but going down in an upset to Jodie Anna Burrage.
Bouzkova, a young Czech, is in the middle of breaking through to the top of the game and reached her first final in Monterrey, beating Konta quite comfortably on her way.
The Brit will have to be on the top of her game to progress, while compatriot Heather Watson will have her hands full with an in-form Jennifer Brady.
While Watson dominated the Battle of the Brits exhibitions, Brady has been very active at the WorldTeamTennis series, scoring good wins over Sofia Kenin and Sloane Stephens.