The 31st edition of the WTA Palermo Ladies Open will mark the official restart of professional tennis across both the elite ATP and WTA tours after a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Three of the world’s Top 20 players will headline the clay-courts of the Sicilian capital. 15th ranked Croatian Petra Martic will be the top seed and she will be joined by 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova and Greece’s Maria Sakkari in an unusually rich draw for a WTA International event.
The tournament had suffered a major setback when its biggest draw–reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep–pulled out due to safety concerns. However, the Romanian’s withdrawal won’t sour the tournament’s sense of optimism and excitement of leading professional tennis’ resumption.
The Palermo Open will open its gates of the 1500-seater Center Court to spectators, although that number will be restricted to 350. That includes players, staff, fans and a small number of photographers, and reporters. Detailed rules and regulations to be observed can be found on the official tournament website.
As always, here at Last Word On Tennis we share our predictions on all the matches of Day 1. You can find four other matches on our second article.
WTA Palermo Ladies Open Day 1 Predictions
Arantxa Rus vs Donna Vekic
Head-to-head: Rus 0-1 Vekic
World No.70 Arantxa Rus fortuitously earned an automatic spot in the main draw following Svetlana Kuznetova’s withdrawal due to travel restrictions. The Dutchwoman hasn’t quite lived up to her potential ever since she burst onto the scene in 2012 when she reached the fourth round of French Open and attained a career-high ranking of No.61.
Rus spent majority of the last few years attempting to hit a double-digit ranking again, and she seems to have found her stride in the last 18 months. The 29-year-old won a staggering 80 matches (56 of those on clay) in 2019 in a productive campaign on the ITF circuit. Her big success this year arrived in Monterrey where she reached her first WTA semifinal. The left-hander has been handed a difficult opener against the sixth seed Donna Vekic. The talented Croat has trained a lot on the clay during the mid-season hiatus with the likes of Maria Sakkari and Caroline Wozniacki, and will be in buoyant mood to get a win on the board. However, against Rus on the dirt she will find things less straightforward.
Prediction: Vekic in 3
Sara Errani vs Sorana Cirstea
Head-to-head: Errani 5-2 Cirstea
Two-time Palermo champion Sara Errani will look to extend her good record against Romania’s Sorana Cirstea. But the last of their meetings happened in 2014 where it could be argued the Italian was very much in her pomp at the time. Cirstea is not in the best of forms right now, but it would be a major surprise if she failed to beat Errani, whose decline over the last five years has turned from gradual to terminal.
Prediction: Cirstea in 2
Daria Kasatkina vs Jasmine Paolini
Head-to-head: Kasatkina 2-1 Paolini
Daria Kasatkina endured a miserable 2019 season, posting a modest 13-21 win-loss record. That stat came off the back of a very impressive 2018, in which she reached a career-high ranking of World No.10, including back-to-back Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. However, the 23-year-old suffered a sharp dip in form last year, making just a pair of quarterfinals–in St. Petersburg and Beijing respectively.
The positive news for the Russian is that she doesn’t have many ranking points to defend during the second half of the season this year, and she can climb up the rankings very quickly if she regains some of her 2018 form and puts a strong showing this week. Her first round opponent is the Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini, who cracked the Top 100 for the first time at the tail end of last year following a run to the Tokyo ITF W100 final. Paolini cemented herself as one to watch in 2019 with her bold shot-making, despite being one of the shortest players on tour.
This will certainly be a competitive affair, and I reckon Kasatkina (who is currently hovering just inside the Top 60), still possesses Top 10 quality tennis and remains very dangerous when she gets her serve and forehand hitting the right spots.
Prediction: Kasatkina in 3
Maria Sakkari vs Kristyna Pliskova
Head-to-head: Sakkari 1-0 Pliskova
This feels like the kind of tournament Maria Sakkari can really step up her game and flourish. The Greek is no stranger to making her imprint at WTA International event. She captured her maiden WTA title last spring on the mud of Morocco when the eyes of the world were glued on the European clay-court swing. Her fine breakthrough season culminated in a Top 20 finish, where she currently sits.
Kristyna Pliskova’s early season struggles were quite prominent after she reached the semifinals in Shenzhen during the opening week. She won one match in her next four tournaments. The Czech left-hander was a busy fixture during the pandemic-enforced break. She played in three exhibition tournaments and accumulated some much-needed fitness ahead of the resumption.
Pliskova is more of a first-strike power player. Sakkari will need to find her rhythm extremely fast to avoid playing catch-up. But over three sets, expect the tenacious Greek to show her athletic ability to down the Czech.
Prediction: Sakkari in 3
Main Photo from Getty.