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Serena Williams’ comeback plans, Kevin Anderson’s fine form, Novak Djokovic’s injury concerns and more takeaways from Abu Dhabi

Reem Abulleil discusses the biggest takeaways from an eventful 10th Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi.

Reem Abulleil 2017/12/31

The 10th edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship was undoubtedly the craziest in the tournament’s decade-long history, with more surprises than anyone could have bargained for.

With the stream of line-up changes and last-minute withdrawals, the addition of a women’s fixture for the first time at the MWTC and the shock appearance of Andy Murray, there’s plenty to reflect on following the weekend’s action in Abu Dhabi.

Here are five takeaways from everything that unfolded at Zayed Sports City…

SERENA MEANS BUSINESS, BUT NOT JUST YET

Serena Williams was clear in her post-match press conference, after losing a tight clash with Jelena Ostapenko: She is not done with the sport yet.

She is intent on making a comeback, even saying she expects her daughter to attend her matches when she is older (Olympia is currently four months-old). But the American 23-time Grand Slam champion is much less clear when discussing her short-term plans.

Where is she heading after Abu Dhabi? “I don’t know,” she responded. Is she going to play the Australian Open. “I’m taking it one day at a time,” she said.

The most telling part of the conversation with Serena was when she described the “trepidation” she felt at the start of her match with Ostapenko. Serena was not moving well in the first set and she admitted she was “afraid” at the beginning and didn’t have confidence in her body or her shots but that her fears eased as the match went on.

Serena had a baby a mere four months ago. Expecting her to head to Melbourne to defend her Australian Open title is a huge ask. Only she can decide whether she is ready for it, but as of right now, the 36-year-old says is not sure if she’s ready to get back on tour just yet.

It will be a big surprise if she turns up in Melbourne. But not a surprise if she returns to the circuit, when she’s ready, and wins more titles.

ANDERSON’S ONE TO WATCH DOWN UNDER

South Africa’s Kevin Anderson claimed three solid wins in Abu Dhabi over the past three days, defeating world No. 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, world No. 5 Dominic Thiem, and world No. 20 Roberto Bautista Agut to become the first player outside Rafael Nadal, Murray and Novak Djokovic to lift the MWTC trophy.

The US Open runner-up looked in great form in the UAE capital, and admits he feels more and more confident in his game and his abilities now. Anderson couldn’t play the Australian Open in 2017 because he was out injured. Now healthy and beaming with confidence, the big man with the big serve could be a real threat Down Under, and throughout the year.

INJURIES ARE APLENTY

Djokovic pulled out of Abu Dhabi and Doha, Nadal withdrew from Brisbane, Murray is in Brisbane but looked rusty in the UAE capital. Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic were a no-show in Abu Dhabi. Kei Nishikori is out of Sydney… There are so many question marks and little answers about the readiness of most of the players who have been at the top of the sport in recent years.

What does that mean? It means Roger Federer can sweep several big titles early in the season if he’s up for it. It also opens up opportunities for the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, to step up to the plate and go for a maiden Slam Down Under. Lots of surprises are in store in 2018.

WOMEN’S TENNIS BELONGS AT MWTC

Judging from the fanfare around Serena and Ostapenko, and the crowds that turned up for their practices and their match, it’s a no-brainer to bring back at least one women’s fixture to the MWTC next year.

It was the first time women’s tennis was played at the tournament and organisers admit they will speak to the event owners, FLASH, about all the different possibilities of making it an annual thing. The tournament format is compact, played over just three days, but rethinking the set-up and adding women’s matches is doable and a great idea. Let’s see if it happens.

THIEM’S OVER HIS CRISIS

Thiem was very forthcoming when discussing the “breakdown” in confidence he experienced post-US Open. The Austrian looked in good shape and form during practice and in his matches against Anderson (despite losing in two sets) and Pablo Carreno Busta (Thiem won in two).

Adding Galo Blanco to his team is also a positive and perhaps the Spanish coach and can help Thiem adjust his schedule and advise him to be wiser when it comes to picking tournaments. Thiem’s conviction in his statements regarding his restored self-belief are positive sign the world No. 5 is good to go for the new season.

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Dominic Thiem Kevin Anderson Serena Williams