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Italian Open tennis tournament could be expanded

ROME (AP) — The Italian Open men’s tournament next month could be expanded from 64 to 96 players and have three more days of matches as tennis officials scramble to rewrite their schedule amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ATP Tour approached Rome organizers with an expansion proposal and offered to cover the extra prize money that would be required, Italian Tennis Federation president Angelo Binaghi said Wednesday.

The proposal comes a day after the Madrid Open in September was canceled because of a new spike in COVID-19 cases in Spain. “We’ll discuss it following the next government decree,” Binaghi said. “If we are given the chance to open the tournament to fans then it’s a possibility we want to take advantage of. Otherwise, with only more costs, we won’t be able to sustain it.

“It’s a big chance to show the world how well we can organize a big tournament,” Binaghi added. “The fact that Madrid is no longer being played opens a big door for us.” The Rome event was postponed from May and rescheduled for Sept. 20-27. It’s slated to be the main warmup event for the postponed French Open, which has been rescheduled for Sept. 27-Oct. 11.

The expansion proposal so far does not include the WTA Tour, meaning the women’s Italian Open would remain a 64-player draw played alongside the men's event. Last month, the Italian government’s technical and scientific committee for the coronavirus reportedly rejected the tennis’ federation proposal to have up to 17,000 fans daily at the Foro Italico -- and instead ordered the tournament to be held without fans.

Italy, the first Western country to be overwhelmed by the virus, has largely contained its spread with a severe initial lockdown, continued mask requirements indoors and social distancing measures. It continues to register some 200-300 new cases each day, many of them imported by returning workers or migrants.

Rome is now scheduled to be the next big tournament after the Aug. 31-Sept. 13 U.S. Open. But anyone coming to Italy from the U.S. is currently being ordered to quarantine for two weeks — unless coming for a quick work trip.

“We’ve put in a request with the sports minister asking that players coming from the United States are not ordered to quarantine,” Binaghi said. The professional tennis tours had been on hiatus since March because of the COVID-19 outbreak, with play resuming for women in Palermo, Sicily, this week.

Last year's Italian Open was won by Rafael Nadal and Karolína Plíšková.

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

Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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