ABU DHABI • Any doubt that Serena Williams would not be back in time for the start of the 2018 tennis season was all but erased last Sunday morning, when the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion delivered an early Christmas present for her fans.
The 36-year-old will play in Saturday's exhibition match at the Mubadala Championship against world No. 7 and French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
They will be the first women to play in the tournament, which started in 2009. It will also be Williams' first match since winning the Australian Open last January while roughly eight weeks pregnant. She gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr, on Sept 1.
"I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the birth of my daughter in September," the American said in a statement.
"The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has long marked the beginning of the men's global tennis season and I am excited and honoured to be making my comeback as part of the first women to participate in the event."
The decision to play in the United Arab Emirates should virtually confirm her participation at the Jan 15-28 Australian Open. The former world No. 1 can equal Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles at Melbourne Park, although she will have to make do with a low seeding after slipping to 22nd in the rankings.
Her comeback raises the prospect of a renewal of her one-sided rivalry with Maria Sharapova, after the Russian's own return earlier this year from a doping ban.
The Mubadala event had already seen men's world No. 1 Rafael Nadal and three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka withdraw.
The six-strong men's field in Abu Dhabi does feature Novak Djokovic, who will also be making his comeback. The 12-time Grand Slam champion has not played competitively since his quarter-final loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon because of an elbow injury.
WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE