TENNIS analyst Gavin Mair (@gavinnightmair) returns to highlight his favourite fancies from the women's side of the WTA Palermo tournament.
WTA Palermo | 3rd-9th August 2020 | Amazon Prime
The travelling circus that is the professional tennis tour resumes this week in Palermo for its first tournament since play was halted due to the coronavirus outbreak back in March.
Last month the WTA announced ambitious plans to restart their global tour. However, as the pandemic continues, the Asian hard court swing – primarily played in China – has already been scratched off the calendar.
At the same time rumours persist over the potential cancellation of the various US events, whilst European cities hosting high profile tournaments such as Madrid seem to be teetering on the brink of a potential second wave of infections.
The uncertainty has understandably had an impact on the Palermo event with a sign of the times being that 25 players have withdrawn from the original list of players that entered the tournament – including number 1 seed Simona Halep, who stated her discomfort with the idea of international travel.
That said a strong playing field has assembled in Sicily and a good week of tennis looks set to be on the cards – touch wood, avoiding any potential Covid-19 testing dramas.
The top of the draw features Petra Martic as the top seed, and in my opinion she looks good value to leave Palermo as the champion.
Her seeded opposition in the top half is the WTA tour’s resident flat-track bully Elise Mertens, who is fully competent at exploiting potential weaknesses in her opposition but against well rounded opponents such as Martic her record is far less impressive.
Outside ot the seeded players Daria Kasatkina could prove dangerous. The Russian has fallen down the rankings in the past 18 months having been rated a top 10 player in October 2018.
She could be a dark horse to win this event as although glancing at her comparative statistics makes for unimpressive reading, it would be fair to say that she rarely enters lower tier events and does not encounter the weaker range of opponents such as the aforementioned Mertens whose data is padded by facing weaker foes.
Another reason for supporting Martic is that there is uncertainty over what level of competition she may face in the semi-finals, as the second quarter looks tricky to call.
I rarely trust the seeded duo of Anett Kontaveit and Donna Vekic to do the business as they can alternate between the level of a top 10 player and a top 100 player.
There are an assortment of mid card talents in Patrica Maria Tig, Laura Siegemund, Irina Camelia Begu and Polina Hercog all of which are at their happiest on a clay court, and more than capable of taking advantage of any lapses in the standard of the seeded players
You could make an argument for any of these players to reach the semis and there doesn’t appear a great deal of value in the outright market emanating from the Quarter 2 dog fight.
Maria Sakkari is the star attraction in Quarter 3. The Greek baseline grinder is far from the most talented player on the tour but she makes up for that with energy and a great fighting spirit.
Last season she triumphed in Rabat and made the semifinals of Rome, two tournaments that are similar in conditions to Palermo. She has had some difficulty in defeating strong servers on clay in the past, so first round opponent Kristyna Pliskova is a potential bananaskin but get past that and the draw opens up for her.
The other seed in the third quarter is fast court enthusiast Ekaterina Alexandrova, who I have watched attempt to adapt to clay court tennis in the off season with her participation in a series of exhibition events in the Czech Republic. However, the Prague based Russian struggled more often than not and looks likely to fall in the first few rounds of Palermo.
The French duo of Kristina Mladenovic and Fiona Ferro are match-hardened after competing in some events in their homeland, but as things stand I would expect Sakkari to find a way past them.
The final quarter of the Palermo draw features Marketa Vondrousova, who starts the tournament as the market favourite with most bookmakers.
It is difficult to draw big conclusions on player form given the lack of tour tennis in recent months, but Vondrousova has played regularly in a string of Czechia based exhibition events. Other than beating an even more out-of-sorts Petra Kvitova, Vondrousova has looked far off the level that took her to a debut Grand Slam final appearance at Roland Garros in 2019 – including losing love sets in her last two outings.
Quarter 4 is the weakest on paper of all parts of the draw, which likely plays a part in Vondrousova’s favouritism. The other seeded player Dayana Yastremska fits a similar category to aforementioned seeds Vekic and Kontaveit in that she would not be at the top of my list in picking likely winners of this event.
However, the Ukrainian has landed nicely in the draw and it would be a surprise if she doesn’t venture through the first few rounds. Still, I think she comes unstuck against a stronger player.