Professional tennis returns next week in Palermo, one of the smaller events on the women’s tour. But don’t let the size of the event fool you—it’s been delivering big-name champions for decades.
The Palermo Ladies Open debuted as a WTA event in 1990, when the WTA classified its events from Tier Is to Tier Vs. Under that system, Palermo was always a Tier IV or V, the two lowest levels.
And when the WTA revised its tournament classification system in 2009, Palermo was designated an International—the smallest of WTA tour events, below Premier Mandatories, Premier 5s, and Premiers. You wouldn’t know it from the list of former champions, though.
There have been 25 previous editions of the Palermo Ladies Open, and 21 of its title holders have been players who were, had been, or would become Top 20 players, including many Top 10 players.
One of the most notable former champions in Palermo is Mary Pierce. As a 16-year-old, Pierce won the first WTA title of her career there in 1991, and backed it up a year later with a successful title defense. The Frenchwoman went on to win two majors at the 1995 Australian Open and 2000 French Open and reach No. 3 in the WTA rankings. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame last year.
Pierce wasn’t the only future Grand Slam champion to win her first WTA title in Palermo. Anastasia Myskina slid to victory there as an 18-year-old in 1999 and went on to win the 2004 French Open, becoming the first Russian woman ever to win a Grand Slam title. She would peak at No. 2.
Flavia Pennetta was also a winner in Palermo, winning on home soil in 2009. Six years later, the Italian won her first major at the 2015 US Open, eventually going as high as No. 6.
Seven more players who were, had been or would be ranked in the Top 10 are on the honor roll in Palermo: Irina Spirlea won back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995, then famously made the 1997 US Open semifinals; Barbara Schett won the title in 1996; Sandrine Testud won in 1997; Patty Schnyder won in 1998; a 17-year-old Dinara Safina won her second WTA title in 2003, then eventually reached three Grand Slam finals and No. 1 in the world; Sara Errani won it in 2008, reached the French Open final in 2012, then won Palermo again a few months later; and Roberta Vinci triumphed in 2013, two years before her fairytale run to the final of the 2015 US Open.
In 2019, the event made a welcome return to the calendar after a five-year absence, and crowned its lowest-ranked champion to date: No. 54 Jil Teichmann. But there could easily have been another marquee name on the trophy, as the Swiss faced—and beat—No. 5-ranked Kiki Bertens in the final.
A slew of former Top 10 and Top 20 players are on the entry list for next week—the official draw will come out later this week. We’ll see if history will repeat itself this year.
Who will remain in this year's 21 & Under Club, and which new players will join them?
Find out all week on TENNIS.com and Baseline.
Monday, July 27: Sofia Kenin | Monday, July 27: Elena Rybakina | Monday, July 27: Alex de Minaur, Dayana Yastremska, Casper Ruud | Tuesday, July 28: Stefanos Tsitsipas | Tuesday, July 28: Thiago Seyboth Wild | Wednesday, July 29: Amanda Anisimova | Wednesday, July 29: Brandon Nakashima