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Top tennis resumes in Palermo with no handshakes or showers

Tour-level tennis resumed after a five-month enforced break on Monday, and players at the Palermo Ladies Open had to handle their own towels and not shake hands of opponents. The strict rules because of the coronavirus included no showers on site, and no autographs or photos with fans. Players in the singles main draw come from 16 European countries and Argentina..

A limited number of fans were allowed into the 1,500-seat stadium court and had to follow social distancing measures. They watched sixth-seeded Donna Vekić of Croatia beat Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-2 in windy conditions in the first official match — for men or women — since early March.

“I’m definitely happy I didn’t forget how to play tennis, how to play matches, how to win,” Vekić said in a video conference. "It’s a huge relief so I’m really happy right now. “It was definitely a bit strange. I was really nervous yesterday, even more today, but after the first few games I just kind of relaxed and I was focused.”

Vekić sealed a place in the second round on her second match point, breaking for the sixth time in the match when Rus hit a forehand wide. Vekić will next face Italian teenager Elisabetta Cocciaretto, who beat Polona Hercog of Slovenia 7-6 (1), 6-3 for her first victory over a player ranked in the top 50.

But beyond this week Vekić has little idea if her plans could change as the pandemic continues to affect events worldwide. Vekić is hoping to compete in the U.S. Open, where she reached the quarterfinals last year, and the French Open as well as Rome.

“Things are changing every week so I think we just have to take it week by week and try to adapt as best as we can, and hope to play as much as we can,” Vekić said. “The uncertainty gives everyone a lot of anxiety.”

The U.S. Open is scheduled to begin Aug. 31, and the French Open from Sept. 27. Laura Siegemund of Germany also eased through in straight sets, beating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-3, 6-4. Siegemund next faces either fourth-seeded Anett Kontaveit or Patricia Maria Țig.

It was harder for Sara Errani, the only previous champion in in the draw. The 2012 winner took nearly three hours to secure a 7-5, 1-6, 6-4 success over Sorana Cîrstea of Romania. The Italian next faces Kristýna Plíšková who upest third-seeded Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4.

A third Italian is also through to the second round after Jasmine Paolini rallied from a set and a break down to beat Daria Kasatkina of Russia 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. In other results: eighth-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova also recovered from a set down to beat Kristina Mladenovic 5-7, 6-0, 6-1, and seventh-seeded Dayana Yastremska triumphed 6-3, 6-4 over Sara Sorribes Tormo.

Players and anyone who comes into contact with players were tested for COVID-19 before they departed for Palermo, upon arrival, and then again every four days.

More AP tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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