Italian tennis bosses are braced for a financial bloodbath as the Rome Masters ploughs towards kickoff next week, with Rafael Nadal making his return to the sport.

The COVID-19 edition at Rome’s Foro Italico will look like nothing ever seen, with no fans on site and players and workers around the grounds obligated to wear masks everywhere.

The fan-free experience was the absolute last option for organisers, who have reduced prize money payouts for the ATP and WTA tournament by almost half.

Their appeal to the government to allow fans in the stands was rebuffed by the Lazio regional government only days ago. 

“The economic damage to our federation is enormous,” federation boss Angelo Binaghi said. “It certainly would have made more economic sense to cancel the tournament, as many others have done.”     

Nadal will be returning to his beloved clay, where he last competed in March in Acapulco – his last match before  the five-month virus shutdown for the tennis Tours.

Rafael Nadal Photo Anne Parker International Sports Fotos Ltd

“The Foro Italico is always a special place for me and even more so this year as it will be my first tournament following a long period without playing,” the nine-time event champion said in a video message.

The women’s draw lost world No. 1 Ash Barty, who will remain in her native Australia after internal restrictions in recent months prevented any useful practice for her and her coach, who lives interstate.

Players travelling directly from New York and the Open and others coming in from outside the EU will have special dispensation to enter Italy and avoid the mandatory 14-day virus quarantine period.

The presence of Serena Williams is still not assured as the American makes up her mind about a post-Open schedule.

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