The 31st Ladies Open Palermo kicks off in Sicily on Monday, marking the resumption of the WTA Tour after five months suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic and the exhibition events that have peppered the calendar since March wrapped up at the weekend.
We're back in competition so I'm blessed. Blessed to be back. Maria Sakkari
In a field comprised entirely of Europeans, only wildcard Sara Errani is a previous champion, having won the Palermo title in 2012 after being the runner-up the previous year.
Errani leads all active players in clay court victories, with 178 to her name, 5 clear of Serena Williams, while Polona Hercog is the next most prolific on the dirt in this draw, who has 86 victories.
The top seed is Croatia’s Petra Martic, with Marketa Vondrousova in the second-seeded spot of the draw, which also includes Maria Sakkari, Anett Kontaveit, Elise Mertens and Donna Vekic.
Sakkari, who arrived in Palermo after competing in the first women’s edition of the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in the south of France over the weekend, is thrilled to be back on the match court and opens her campaign on Monday night against the Czech Republic’s Kristyna Pliskova.
“We’re back in competition so I’m blessed,” Sakkari said. “Blessed to be back.”
The Greek was so starved for competition during the tour’s shutdown that nearly turned to a temporary switch of sports.
“If the tour was cancelled I was going to compete in the 100-meter track and field event at the National Championships,” Sakkari told reporters at All Access Hour. ”Greece National Championships starts on August 8th.
“We were kind of joking with my fitness coach, but inside of me I really needed competition.
“There were rumours going around that the tour would get cancelled so I thought if the tour gets cancelled I need to find something.
“I’m fast. I knew I was not going to win it, for sure, because I’m not a professional. But yeah, I was thinking of doing that.”
“[I can run a] 12.7 without spikes or starting blocks. My fitness coach, who is a track and field specialist, said that if I trained I could probably make the final.”
The 25-year old World No 20 is looking to recapture the form that clicked into place at the start of the season.
Sakkari made her first Round of 16 at the Australian Open (l. Kvitova) and followed that up with a run to the semi-finals of the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy (l. Rybakina).
“Once Indian Wells and Miami were cancelled I went back to Athens,” Sakkari said. “I stayed at home with my siblings for two weeks away from my parents, because we all came from abroad so we wanted to be careful even though we had no symptoms.
“None of my family got the virus. We were very aware of it and Greece did pretty good. I’m proud of my country.
“I haven’t been home for five months since I was maybe 12. It was really nice.
“After a while I wanted to get back to traveling and action, but I really enjoyed my time at home. Saw my friends, had some weeks off, really enjoyed the time with my family.
“Went to an island for a week, which was nice. I got to spend time with my people. But I missed tennis.”
“The only person I saw earlier this month was Donna [Vekic]. We saw each other in Monaco.
“But with the other girls, we’re not hugging. We’re just fist-bumping. It’s strange. We are used to seeing each other every week and we haven’t seen each other for five months.”
All live action can be followed on Amazon Prime.
Order of Play, from 3pm on all courts
- Arantxa RUS (NED) v Donna VEKIC (CRO) 
- [WC] Sara Errani (ITA) v Sorana CIRSTEA (ROU)
Not before 7:30pm
- Return to Play Ceremony & Tribute to Italian Medical Staff
- Jasmine PAOLINI (ITA) v Daria KASATKINA (RUS)
- Kristyna PLISKOVA (CZE) v Maria SAKKARI (GRE) 
- Laura SIEGEMUND (GER) v Irina-Camelia BEGU (ROU)
- Polona HERCOG (SLO) v [WC] Elisabetta COCCIARETTO (ITA)
- Ekaterina ALEXANDROVA (RUS)  v Kristina MLADENOVIC (FRA)
- Dayana YASTREMSKA (UKR)  v Sara SORRIBES TORMO (ESP)
- Vivian HEISEN (GER) / Emily WEBLEY-SMITH (GBR) v Greet MINNEN (BEL) / Alison VAN UYTVANCK (BEL)
- Elena BOGDAN (ROU) / Reka-Luca JANI (HUN) v Ulrikke EIKERI (NOR) / Elixane LECHEMIA (FRA)