sport news Unnamed female player set to play in Palermo Ladies Open tests POSITIVE for ...

Against the regal backdrop of Sicily's Mount Pellegrino, it fell to 's Martina Trevisan to hit tennis's first ball in anger for 143 days.

Saturday's qualifying matches for the Palermo Ladies Open brought to an end the sport's longest hiatus to hit official tour events since the second world war.

It should have been a moment of joy and relief for the handful of spectators but fear still stalks the return of the international circuit.

An unnamed player has tested positive for coronavirus at the Ladies Palermo Open

An unnamed player has tested positive for coronavirus at the Ladies Palermo Open

Just 35 minutes before play began the news was released that one of the qualifiers had tested positive for Covid-19. When 25 year-old Bulgarian Viktoriya Tomova was removed from the schedule due to 'illness' not many sleuthing powers were required to ascertain her identity. She did not have symptoms.

The case shows why tennis's return to meaningful play hangs by a thread, and why this comeback to tour action in a remote southern Europe outpost of the sport might still be the road to nowhere.

's government has imposed quarantine on people coming from Bulgaria, and ironically the tournament went to the authorities to request a waiver for those players who would be adhering to the strict protocols they are imposing. Still it happened.

Tournament Director Oliviero Palma was sitting in a sealed off room at the Covid-segregated Palermo Country Time Club. After 31 years in the job he has seen most things, but never anything like this.

Ask him what advice he would give to others in his position trying to get official events on and his cheerful, slightly weathered features crease: 'Forget the last 30 years and start thinking again,' he replies succinctly.

This is the disconcerting regime that this week's players – who include eight of the world's top 30 – must abide by when they arrive, as directed by the WTA Tour. The far greater number planning to attend the US Open, if it happens, can expect something similar.

After clearing passport control they are put into an official tournament car, in which they are obliged to wear a PPE-style Perspex face cover. During the journey air conditioning is not allowed and the windows must be down.

At the hotel they must go straight to a lorry in the car park to be tested by medics wearing Hazmat suits. They are then escorted to their rooms, which they are not allowed to leave until a negative test is returned, usually within 24 hours.

Then they are in the sort-of bubble, although some players have been perturbed to discover that there are also tourists staying on the premises.

But then the fact is that tournaments the size of Palermo simply cannot afford to book a whole hotel outright, especially in peak season. Palma, already saddled with extra Covid costs, knows they are going to lose money this week and hopes that everyone can show a degree of understanding.

Bulgarian Viktoriya Tomova (pictured) was removed from the schedule due to 'illness'

 Bulgarian Viktoriya Tomova (pictured) was removed from the schedule due to 'illness'

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