Amid slip-ups over coronavirus protocols, the two top seeds at the WTA Palermo Ladies Open met with mixed fortunes on Tuesday, as top seed Petra Martic advanced in straight sets but 2nd-seeded Marketa Vondrousova fell at the hands of a qualifier.
We all depend on each other, and I don’t want to pay for someone else’s mistake, and I think that’s fair; whoever doesn’t follow the rules should be punished accordingly. Petra Martic
Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan stunned the 2019 French Open finalist, 1-6 7-5 6-4, to score the biggest win of her young career and the 19-year old moves into the second round to meet Italy’s Camilla Giorgi, a 7-5 6-4 winner over Rebecca Peterson from Sweden.
Juvan, who already had played 3 gruelling rounds of qualifying, seemed to reach her limit as she quickly dropped the first set, but she stayed solid to complete the comeback and score her first Top 20 win against the Czech World No 18.
She took a 4-0 lead in the second, and nearly lost her advantage when Vondrousova won 5 games in a row, but fought back to level sets before breaking the Czech twice in the third to win in 2-1/2 hours.
Completely forgetting health protocols, Juvan threw both her visor and sweatband into the crowd after her victory.
In another lapse on Monday, Italy’s Sara Errani celebrated her three-set victory over Sorana Cirstea by tossing her sweatband to a grateful fan in the crowd, which in the age of COVID-19 is a big no-no, although the ‘lucky’ recipient who clamoured for it was wearing a mask.
A split second later Errani realised what she had done and apologised to the umpire, who covered her face with a hand in despair.
Later, Juvan made no mention of her lapse: “She [Vondrousova] started off really well and I was a little bit nervous,” she admitted in her post-match press conference. “She’s my first, well, other than Serena [Williams], my first Top 20 opponent.
“The conditions were pretty hard, but then in the second and third set I kind of calmed myself and I started playing much better.
“She wouldn’t let me go easily, but that’s tennis and I just tried to do my best.
Martic beat rusty Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck, 6-0 6-3, in her first match back on the tour in 5 months after the novel coronavorus pandemic suspended tennis worldwide, wrapping up the contest in 65 minutes with four breaks of serve.
The 29-year-old Croatian looked at home on the clay and started the match aggressively, needing only 23 minutes to take the opening set as Van Uytvanck struggled to find answers to her opponent’s superior court coverage.
“I think I felt my nerves a little bit more, because the break was so long,” Martic told reporters in a virtual news conference. “It’s such a big uncertainty going on the court, not knowing how you’re going to be.
“I played well before the break, so I was happy with the rhythm, but obviously 5 months off disrupts everything. Once the match started, I kind of let go and just played.”
The Croatian will face Liudmila Samsonova in the second round in Palermo after the Russian qualifier upset Kirsten Flipkens, 6-4 6-2, earlier in the day to advance.
Another seed to fall was Elise Mertens, the 5th from Belgium, who was also taken out by a qualifier, Aliaksandra Sasnovic, 6-4 6-1.
Anett Kontaveit, the No 4 seed from Estonia, however, closed out show court action on Tuesday with a 6-3 6-3 win over Romania’s Patricia Maria Tig.
Playing her first match since the Qatar Total Open, Kontaveit acquitted herself well against Tig, advancing after 94 minutes.
“I’m just really happy to have won that match,” she said after the match. “It was a little bit difficult switching from hardcourts to outdoor clay. It was a little windy and I wasn’t used to the bad bounces.
“I fought well, managed to come back in the second set, never gave up on the set when I was 3-0 down and really stayed in there. I feel like I played the important points well, and I wasn’t missing on those.”
Tig took a medical timeout in between sets and appeared on song to start the second, sweeping through the first 3 games but momentum soon shifted back to Kontaveit, who ultimately rolled through the final 6 games to book her spot in the second round.
“It’s going to take time to get used to everything,” she said of the new protocols meant to help maximise a safe tournament. “I never really use the towel much on the court, so that’s not too big of a change for me.
“I have to remind myself to keep my distance when asking for the ball, which is definitely unusual, but I’ll get used to it.”
Palermo marks the official return of women’s tennis but safety protocols are being called into question.
Martic is ‘not confident at all’ that players will adhere to COVID-19 protocols.
“We all depend on each other, and I don’t want to pay for someone else’s mistake, and I think that’s fair; whoever doesn’t follow the rules should be punished accordingly,” Martic said.
The field in Palermo is comprised of Europeans, and they have been recommended to stay in their hotel rooms when not competing.
“It is an absolute scandal that players are in the same hotel as tourists in Palermo,” veteran men’s player Richard Gasquet told Le Equipe. “I don’t know how the WTA can accept it.
“If you stage a tournament, it’s because the hotel is 100 percent reserved for players and staff. If you can’t, you cancel it.”
“I have a feeling that in New York it will be a real bubble. Here [in Palermo] they talk about us being in a bubble but it’s not at all,” Donna Vekic, the World No 24, told the paper. “I don’t want to pretend that I’m locked in the room the whole day when I’m not. I went to dinner in the city.
“For sure we’re being careful, and not being close to people, but I’m not locked in the room and 90 percent of the players aren’t.
“I hope in New York there will actually be fines and if everyone respects that and it makes sense, then I’m all for it, but if the rules are contradicting each other, then it makes no sense.”
The USTA maintains the US Open scheduled to start at the end of August will take place but Maria Sakkari bemoaned an apparent lack of communication coming from the USTA.
The Western & Southern Open was moved from Cincinnati to Flushing Meadows to be played before the US Open and will start on 20 August.
“The fact that US Open hasn’t made a decision yet is, sorry to say, pissing off every single player, because it’s 20 days away from Cincinnati starting,” said Sakkari, who lost her opener on Monday.
That there is risk and uncertainty in bringing back pro tennis is clear.