Palermo marks the restart of the tennis year: “Everything’s fine, feel safe

With the gravel tournament in Palermo, the tennis world is carefully trying to find its way out of the corona crisis from Monday.

Strick protocols must ensure that all players, referees and officials get through the Italian week safely and healthily, which can be the prelude to a broad international restart of the tennis circuit

All international eyes focused on Sicily

The women’s tournament in Palermo normally has a modest status. Whereas in previous years the majority of the world’s top athletes picked up their noses for the event, now all eyes are on the tournament in the Sicilian city.

In consultation with the interest group for global women’s tennis, the WTA, the organisers in Palermo have drawn up a comprehensive corona protocol.

“Everything’s fine here. I feel safe”, says Bibiane Schoofs, who was eliminated in the singles qualifications in Palermo and will also be in action in the doubles later this week.

“The guidelines are clear. Everyone at the tennis park must wear a mouth mask, except when you have to play tennis. Even though some players have trouble keeping their mouth caps on everywhere”, says Schoofs.

“I’ve heard that fines will be handed out if people repeatedly fail to comply. I haven’t experienced it yet.”

Expanded testing

According to Schoofs, the number 188 of the world, the testing policy is tightly organised. “When checking in at the hotel, all players are tested for corona antibodies and for the corona virus. This is all taken care of by the organization and the WTA.”

“You get the results of the antibodies immediately, but you have to wait a maximum of 24 hours for the result of the coron test. In the meantime, you are expected to stay in your hotel room. So you are not allowed to play tennis or go to the gym. Tuesday we’ll be tested again.”

The organisation in Palermo, where Kiki Bertens made it to the finals last year, has made mouthpieces, grips and thermometers available for each player in addition to the tests.

Contrast with cycling

The measures taken to ensure the health of the tennis players look significantly better and more professional than was the case with the cyclists who were active at the Strade Bianche on Saturday. At the latter event, in and around Siena, cycling teams were expected to arrange their own corona tests.

In Palermo the tennis players are surrounded with care from their arrival at the airport. “This is also a kind of test phase for the WTA, so they try to arrange everything as perfectly as possible. You also see more people from the WTA walking around here than usual”, says Schoofs. “If things go wrong, they obviously have a big problem.”

But no matter how well everything is arranged, a feeling of nervousness is palpable in Palermo. For example, double player Rosalie van der Hoek, Schoofs’ partner in Palermo, had to wait for the result of her coron test in her hotel room, after a positive result of her antibody test

“I’ve had corona, so that’s why I have a positive result on antibodies”, says Van der Hoek. “It is the protocol in Italy that in a positive antibody test you are kept separate until you have the result of the coronavirus test. It all happened very quickly. I had to wait eleven hours in a hotel room for the results.”

Rumours

Local media got wind of the positive test and soon social media were buzzing with the rumours of a coronation fall in Palermo.

“I read those messages in my room and it was weird. Suddenly I started to doubt if I really had corona, but my coronavirus test was negative.”

Lack of privacy around the test site was, according to Van der Hoek, the reason why the rumours appeared so quickly on the internet.

“The tests were done in public in front of the entrance of the hotel, so everyone could see and hear it when I heard a positive result from the official, from hotel guests to other tennis players. There were at least ten to twenty people walking around there. The WTA has changed that in the meantime. Now the tests are done in a closed environment.”

In spite of the incident, Van der Hoek has an understanding for the testing policy. “I think it’s good how meticulously and tightly they deal with this. If the number of positive tests at the tournament remains low, the WTA can show that it is responsible to organize tournaments.”

“So that also requires responsibility on the part of the players. Tennis is an individual sport, but now we have to work together.”