Italian COVID-19 bureaucracy scored a knockout punch against Simona Halep, with the beleaguered drawcard withdrawing on Sunday from the August 3 start of the WTA return event in Palermo.

Officials in the Sicilian capital had been touting the appearance of the Romanian world No. 2 in the small clay tournament for weeks.

But a decision on Friday from Rome suddenly decreed Romania and Bulgaria as new virus hotspots; any arrivals from the eastern European nations would require a 14-day quarantine.

That sealed it for Halep, who had been keen to jump back into the competitive mix as the five-month tennis shutdown lurches to an end.

The European player field in Palermo will be subject to virus tests every four days after an initial test upon arrival.

Tournament officials had pleaded for an exception to the decree but with no success.

“We found out with great bitterness the decision of the world number two to cancel her participation,” TD Oliviero Palma said in a statement.

“Yesterday we were optimistic, and we had informed Halep’s staff about the fact that professional players are not obliged to quarantine.

“We are embittered and profoundly disappointed.”

Halep appeared slightly less frustrated, tweeting: “Given the recent rise in Covid-19 cases in Romania and my anxieties around international air travel at this time, I have made the tough decision to withdraw from Palermo.” 

“I want to thank the tournament director and the Italian ministry of health for all their efforts on my behalf and I wish the tournament a successful week.”

The reigning Wimbledon will now travel instead to Prague for an August 10 start at that clay event.

Italy has been extremely cautious after coming through the worst as the first European country to be hammered by COVID in the spring; with more than 35,000 dying of the virus.

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