The number of countries represented by Hologic WTA Tour players grew again at the 34 Palermo Ladies Open as Francesca Curmi, 21, made her debut at this level.

Curmi became the first player from Malta to compete in a WTA main draw, and came within a whisker of pulling off a first-round upset over Cristina Bucsa. Curmi led 5-3 in the third set and was two points away from her first career Top 100 win before Bucsa came back to escape 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

No.326-ranked Curmi has already been making history for the Mediterranean archipelago over the past few years. A former junior No.52, she became the first Maltese player to compete in a junior Grand Slam when she qualified for Roland Garros 2018.

Palermo: Bucsa edges Maltese qualifier Curmi in three-set opener

She is just the fourth player from her country to have achieved a WTA ranking, following Kimberley Cassar, Elaine Genovese and Helene Pellicano. Last year, Curmi became the first of those to break the Top 700 after a season that saw her compile a 62-24 record and rise from No.1124 to No.487. She also scored a career-best win over No.109-ranked Oceane Dodin en route to the Madrid ITF W80 quarterfinals in November.

Curmi has continued to make strides in 2023, winning her first ITF W25 title in Tossa de Mar in April and hitting a career-high of No.311 in the same month. This week, she made her WTA qualifying debut in Palermo, defeating wild card Giada Di Paola 6-0, 6-0 but falling 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 to Tessah Andrianjafitrimo in the final round.

Despite the loss, Curmi entered the main draw as a lucky loser following Anna-Lena Friedsam's withdrawal.

Curmi is the sixth player since 2017 whose WTA main-draw debut has also been a first tour-level representation for their country, following Lina Gjorcheska of North Macedonia (2017 Biel), Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva of Andorra (2021 Madrid), Alexandra Eala of the Philippines (2021 Cluj-Napoca 1), Raluka Serban of Cyprus (2022 Warsaw) and Sada Nahimana of Burundi (2023 Rabat).