PALERMO, Italy - For most competing at the 31st Palermo Ladies Open, it was the first proper matches any had played since early March, when the WTA tour was shut down due to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
Future champion Fiona Ferro arrived on an unofficial 10-match winning streak, having won a pair of regional tournaments organized by the French Tennis Federation in fields that included countrywomen Alizé Cornet and Kristina Mladenovic. The matches were not only a test of Ferro's physicality after nearly five months away from the match courts, but also an opportunity for the 23-year-old to employ new mental tactics and unveil a more relaxed persona.
“I think the exhibitions showed me how consistent and calm I can be on court," she explained after her straight-sets win over Anett Kontaveit in Sunday's final. "I just tried to do that in every match, for every point. I wanted to have a really good attitude, as well. I think it’s something a little bit new for me, not to talk to myself or get angry. I did that very well this week and it will be my goal to maintain that in future weeks."
Ferro had already been on an upswing in the last 18 months, cracking the Top 100 for the first time, winning her maiden WTA title in Lausanne last July, and reaching the third round of the 2019 US Open - upsetting Mladenovic en route.
“Physically I feel great. I have good energy and was ready to play for as long as needed. I have some little pains here and there, but I think that’s the case for all the players. I’ve seen a lot of them wearing tape."
This unlikely off-season afforded Ferro time that healthy players don't typically have, time to make meaningful improvements with coach Emmanuel Planque - whom she hired ahead of the 2020 season - starting with her serve.
“I think I’ve improved my serve a lot, as well. It used to not be as good, but it’s much better now. In the final, I knew it was important to have a good first serve percentage; that was my focus, because she can be very aggressive on the second serve. In the important moments I managed to serve well.”
Ferro spent her five months in an unrelenting training bloc, something that was immediately apparent in Palermo as she outlasted the likes of No.8 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova, former French Open finalist Sara Errani, and an in-form Camila Giorgi, against whom she made impressive adjustments to survive in a three-set semifinal.
“I’m not really surprised at how fresh I'm feeling because I practiced really hard. I didn’t stop during the five months. We’ll have to see how I’m feeling next week, or how my body holds up with two or three weeks of competing in a row.”
Armed with a forehand Ferro describes as built for clay court tennis, the final piece was mental toughness, which helped her turn around a tight second set against Kontaveit and serve her way to victory.
"My coach insists on having a good attitude. I used to get angry on court, and get nervous. I still get nervous, of course, but I try not to show it."
Up to a career-high ranking of World No.44, Ferro has just one goal in mind: more titles.
“I don’t really like to have ranking goals. In the past, it used to put pressure on me, and I think it’s better just to focus on things I can improve. It doesn’t change anything for me; I’ll keep working as hard as I have been, and try to get some more trophies.”