Burning questions: Can the WTA’s restart survive COVID-19?

The WTA season is set to return tomorrow at the Palermo Ladies Open. Excitement levels are through the roof but so are the concerns.

After five months of a season shutdown and exhibition tournaments, the first main draw tournament is set to begin tomorrow with the WTA Palermo Ladies Open. #1-seeded Petra Martic (WTA World #15) is looking to continue a stellar last year and change into the season restart; she claimed the 2019 Istanbul title and reached the finals in Zhengzhou. She’s had a solid start to 2020 as well, reaching the Dubai semifinals before the season went on hold.

The draw is full of some of the best on clay. 2nd seed Marketa Vondrousova is one of Roland Garros’ four defending semifinalists. Qualifier Sara Errani has returned after her 10-month ban and could be a tough matchup for anyone in the bottom half of the draw given her 2012 Roland Garros finals appearance (and doubles title that same year) and 7 career clay titles.

Regardless of the immense crop of talent set to battle in tennis’ comeback tournament, the big question still swirls has only gotten more urgent as the tournament nears its beginning: Can it survive COVID-19?

Yesterday’s news that an unnamed player tested positive for the virus and was asymptomatic swept waves across the tennis community. The player did immediately withdraw from the tournament following her positive result, it didn’t do much to ease the minds of fans and fellow players.

“Any individual who tests positive will remain in isolation until cleared by a physician per the established protocols, and will receive proper medical treatment,” said the WTA in a statement.
“In addition, all those who may have been in close contact with the individual are undergoing testing per WTA protocols.”

This came in conjunction with the news that current World #2, Simona Halep, would be withdrawing from the tournament, citing virus concerns.

“We found out Halep’s decision with great bitterness,” tournament director Oliviero Palma said via the event’s Twitter account. “Yesterday we were optimistic, and we had informed Halep’s staff about the fact that professional players are not obliged to quarantine. “Regional assessor of Health Ruggero Razza had directly sent to Halep an official communication explaining how the Ordinance of the Ministry of Health was not to be applied to workers, therefore neither to professional tennis players.”

The news that the tournament was arguably pressuring Halep to play in the tournament didn’t go over well once the director’s statement went public. It’s obvious that, with Halep competing, the event would’ve gotten better ratings and support. However, putting out information that the tournament is willing to forgo virus protection protocols in order to bring a player into the mix only puts the event (and everyone involved) in a very bad spot.

Time will certainly tell whether or not the tournament will be safe moving forward. As we’ve seen in tennis with the Adria Tour and the mishap surrounding Major League Baseball, having players travel from many different parts of the continent without the proper distancing protocols hasn’t ended well.

For the future of the 2020 tennis season, the Palermo Ladies Open needs to succeed without a hitch. If not, it’ll jeopardize the next few months of tennis without a doubt. If players can’t stay safe at a 32-player event, it isn’t likely that they’ll do so at a full Grand Slam field either.

For better or for worse, tennis has returned. Excitement levels are through the roof but are just as high as the major concerns.