Top tennis returns in Palermo Ladies Open

Tennis returned on Monday after a five-month wait as the WTA Palermo Ladies Open kicked off with limited fans allowed in the stadium.

Protocols are practiced among both athletes and fans. Players need to handle their own towels and are not allowed to shake hands with opponents, neither are autographs or photos with fans allowed. Spectators are asked to follow social distancing measures in the stadium.

Players in the singles main draw come from 15 countries, all in Europe.

Sixth-seeded Donna Vekic of Croatia beat Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-2 in windy conditions in the first official match – for men or women – since early March.

"I'm definitely happy I didn't forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win," Vekic said in a video conference. "It's a huge relief, so I'm really happy right now.

"It was definitely a bit strange. I was really nervous yesterday, even more today, but after the first few games I just kind of relaxed and I was focused."

Vekic sealed a place in the second round on her second match point, breaking for the sixth time in the match when Rus hit a forehand wide.

Vekic will next face Italian teenager Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who beat Polona Hercog of Slovenia 7-6 (1), 6-3 for her first victory over a player ranked in the top 50.

But beyond this week Vekic has little idea if her plans could change as the pandemic continues to affect events worldwide.

Vekic is hoping to compete in the U.S. Open, where she reached the quarterfinals last year, and the French Open as well as Rome.

"Things are changing every week so I think we just have to take it week by week and try to adapt as best as we can, and hope to play as much as we can," Vekic said. "The uncertainty gives everyone a lot of anxiety."

Laura Siegemund of Germany also eased through in straight sets, beating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 6-4.

Siegemund next faces either fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit or Patricia Maria Tig.

It was harder for Sara Errani, the only previous champion in in the draw. The 2012 winner took nearly three hours to secure a 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 success over Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

The Italian next faces Kristyna Pliskova or third-seeded Maria Sakkari.

Players and anyone who comes into contact with players were tested for COVID-19 before they departed for Palermo, upon arrival and then again every four days.

Following the resumption of this sports, the U.S. Open scheduled to begin August 31 and the French Open from September 27.

(With input from agencies)

(Cover image: Donna Vekic of Croatia in action during the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy 2020 in St. Petersburg, Russia, February 11, 2020. /VCG)