PALERMO, Italy - The first WTA draw in six months is out as qualifying action at the Palermo Ladies Open this weekend kicks off the resumption of the tour following its hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Russia's Varvara Gracheva and Spain's Aliona Bolsova the top two seeds of the preliminary rounds.
The 19-year-old Gracheva was one of 2019's biggest climbers, soaring from World No.447 to World No.105 over the course of the season thanks to a phenomenal 70-26 win-loss record overall, including reaching the second round at two of the first three WTA main draws of her career at Washington and Moscow. This year, Gracheva cracked the Top 100 for the first time in March, and is currently perched just outside at World No.101; she opens against unranked 17-year-old local wildcard Matilde Paoletti and could face another 19-year-old talent, No.7 seed Kaja Juvan, in the final qualifying round. Slovenia's Juvan turned heads at Wimbledon last year in stretching Serena Williams to three sets in the second round, and saved seven match points en route to overcoming Venus Williams in Acapulco just before the tour was paused.
World No.102 Bolsova, a former Florida Atlantic University standout, also made a splash last year - particularly on clay, where she reached the fourth round of Roland Garros as a qualifier on her Grand Slam debut. The 22-year-old hit a career high of World No.88 last July, and will bid to pick up where she left off in 2020: Bolsova's last result before the hiatus was a run to the Cairo ITF W60 final in February. She also opens against a 17-year-old Italian wildcard, World No.858 Melania Delai.
A potential final-round opponent for Bolsova is her conqueror in Cairo, 18-year-old teenage phenom Marta Kostyuk. The Ukrainian, who seized attention by reaching the third round of the 2018 Australian Open as a 15-year-old one year after winning the girls' title, had been surging back up the rankings in the months prior to the tour shutdown, following her second ITF W60 title in Cairo by qualifying for Lyon, and is now ranked World No.141.
However, the unseeded Kostyuk has landed in the most stacked section of the qualifying draw. Should she navigate past Viktoriya Tomova in the first round, she will face either the powerful hitting of No.5 seed Liudmila Samsonova or the wiles of compatriot Lesia Tsurenko, a former World No.23. Samsonova, who reached her maiden WTA semifinal in Palermo last year, was one of the most in-form players of the halted season, defeating Kostyuk - as well as Kristina Mladenovic and Sloane Stephens - in Brisbane in January; while 2018 US Open quarterfinalist Tsurenko's current ranking of World No.139 is more a reflection of her six-month layoff due to an elbow injury last year than her quality.
Tsurenko is not the only former Top 50 player seeking to qualify: No.4 seed Oceane Dodin, who hit her career high of World No.46 in June 2017 before struggling with health issues including medical vertigo for several years, was also on the rebound in 2020, making the quarterfinals of both St. Petersburg and Lyon, where the Frenchwoman stretched Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin to three sets. Dodin could face former World No.12 and 2009 US Open semifinalist Yanina Wickmayer in the second round.
Meanwhile, former World No.30 Aliaksandra Sasnovich is the No.6 seed in the draw and faces a potential second-round clash with 19-year-old shock Hua Hin runner-up Leonie Kung, should the pair defeat Anastasiya Komardina and Tereza Martincova respectively in their openers. Whoever emerges from that section is projected to face No.3 seed Greet Minnen in the final round, though the Belgian faces a tricky clay encounter off the bat in the form of former World No.52 and two-time WTA titlist Lara Arruabarrena.
The 2020 Palermo Ladies Open main draw field is headed by World No.15 Petra Martic and Roland Garros finalist Marketa Vondrousova, and will also feature Australian Open quarterfinalist Anett Kontaveit, US Open quarterfinalist Donna Vekic and Adelaide runner-up Dayana Yastremska.
Click here to view the full 2020 Palermo Ladies Open qualifying draw.