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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Jelena Ostapenko 'honoured' to be Serena Williams' first opponent on return to game at Mubadala World Tennis Championship 

French Open champions says Williams was her 'idol' growing up ahead of exhibition match in Abu Dhabi

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko will be Serena Williams' first opponent when the American superstar makes her long-awaited return to tennis at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Valda Kalnina / EPA
French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko will be Serena Williams' first opponent when the American superstar makes her long-awaited return to tennis at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Saturday. Valda Kalnina / EPA

Jelena Ostapenko feels "honoured" that she will be the first opponent Serena Williams faces on her return to tennis when the two meet at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Saturday.

The pair will meet in an exhibition match at 5pm at the International Tennis Stadium at Zayed Sports City in what will be the first women's match to be played at the tournament.

Williams has not played since winning the Australian Open in January as she gave birth to her first child, Alexis Olympia Ohanian, in September.

Ostapenko, 20, the French Open champion, said during a news conference Friday: "I am really honoured to play Serena in her first match after coming back and I think it is such a great opportunity."

Of what the 23-time major winner means to her, the Latvian added: "She was actually my idol when I was growing up, and I saw her matches and I really liked the style she is playing, and I think she is very big for women's tennis."

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The match is part of the world No 7's preparations for the 2018 season and she says her goal is simply to enjoy going up against Williams.

"I am a little excited because I have never played her," she said.

"To play such a great champion of course I have nothing to lose and I will just enjoy the match."

The past season was Ostapenko's breakthrough year. She established herself in the top 10 and won her first grand slam in Paris in June, coming from a set down to beat current world No 1 Simona Halep in the final 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

As to how she aims to improve on that in 2018, she said: "Of course it is not going to be easy after such a great season but I have prepared well and I am just going to try to show my best at the grand slams and try to be top 10.

"I'm feeling good. I did a good pre-season and did some exhibition matches in Thailand and I am looking forward to the new season."

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