Abu Dhabi | Serena plays exhibition while Anderson takes title
Comebacks have been the main fare at the Abu Dhabi exhibition event this year, overshadowing the actual Mubadala Tennis Championships which on day three, featured the final between Kevin Anderson and Roberto Bautista Agut.
Novak Djokovic’s long-awaited comeback on Friday was a washout as he withdrew citing a recurrence of his tennis elbow injury. Then Andy Murray agreed to play a one set exhibition for his first public outing to test his hip which still forces him to limp.
Finally we had Serena Williams arriving to play an exhibition against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko after nearly a year off to have a baby which she delivered in September.
I don’t know if I am totally ready to come back on the Tour yet. I know that when I come back I definitely want to be competing for championships,Serena Williams
And she certainly cut a dramatic figure dressed in an all-black outfit with contrasting white and red tennis ‘boots’ in what could be interpreted as a warning to all her rivals that she was definitely back and raring to take over what she believes to be her rights, the top ranking and the major titles!
But she was slow moving to start with and her serve was erratic – she was broken five times – with just two net approaches so there is plenty of rust to brush off before she can pursue her ambitions and establish herself back on the tour.
However she improved as the match progressed and took a set off Ostapenko who was enjoying herself immensely while playing her idol for the first time in her young career to clock up a 6-2 3-6 [10-5] victory.
“She was my idol growing up and I really love the way she plays; playing her was really special,” Ostapenko said following her win.
But the spotlight was very much on the 36-year-old American who then rather surprisingly, revealed that she was not sure whether she would be defending her Australian Open title, a title she won whilst two-months pregnant.
“It was good to be back out there. I missed playing, I missed competition, I missed the crowd, the atmosphere so much. It was really nice to be back,” she said on court after the match. “First matches back are always super incredibly hard, especially after having a baby.
“It was great. I was glad I could do it here.”
However she was uncertain of her future plans.
“I don’t know if I am totally ready to come back on the Tour yet. I know that when I come back I definitely want to be competing for championships,” she added, refusing to commit yet to the Australian Open, which starts on January 15.
“I don’t know, but I am definitely looking forward to getting back out there. I am taking it one day at a time. I am going to assess everything with Patrick (Mouratoglou, her coach) and my team.”
She did take some positives from the match. “In the beginning, it felt a little tough. But as the match moved on, I was less afraid. I knew I was not going to fall over and break. The more I played, the more confident I felt that I would be able to go for shots that I was afraid to go for in the first set.
“It was a wonderful opportunity for me to kind of test where I am at. Not just physically, but also mentally.”
Williams’ new husband, internet mogul Alexis Ohanian, was in the stands for the match in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile Kevin Anderson and Roberto Bautista Agut played out their final to bring a fascinating three days to a conclusion. Anderson won 6-4 7-6(0) after one-hour and 40-minutes of what was a tight match