Mubadala World Tennis Championship: Complete player guide as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams head to Abu Dhabi
Six-player men's tournament will again be accompanied by a one-off women's match in what could be the finest line-up ever assembled
The 11th Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi might well be the tournament's most impressive line-up to date.
Taking place December 27-29 at Zayed Sports City's International Tennis Centre, MWTC will host its traditional six-player men's event and feature, for a second year, a one-off women's match.
Here we profile the eight players set to descend on the UAE capital for the star-studded exhibition.
Novak Djokovic (Serbia)
World ranking: 1
2018 highlights: Four titles (Wimbledon, Cincinnati Masters, US Open, Shanghai Masters)
MWTC appearances (best result): Four (Champion 2011, 2012, 2013)
What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Djokovic withdrew on the eve of MWTC as the elbow injury that caused him to end his 2017 season in July had not sufficiently healed.
After an ill-fated attempt to win a seventh Australian Open ended in the fourth round, Djokovic took a further two months out before returning in March, but results were far from stellar.
The turning point came at Queen's Club where a march to the final laid the foundation for a run that would see Djokovic win four of his next five tournaments, including his fourth Wimbledon title and third US Open. His victory in Cincinnati also ensured Djokovic become the first player to win all nine Masters titles.
The 31-year-old Serb's remarkable run was crowned with a return to world No 1 in November, and the 14-time grand slam champion will be the man to beat in Abu Dhabi, where he has never lost on court – his only defeat was a walkover.
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Rafael Nadal (Spain)
World ranking: 2
2018 highlights: Five titles (Monte Carlo Masters, Barcelona Open, Rome Masters, French Open, Rogers Cup)
MWTC appearances (best result): Eight (Champion: 2010, 2011, Jan 2016, Dec 2016)
It was a strange sort of season for Nadal. His win-loss record was astounding and he collected another five titles, but once again injuries severely limited his involvement. First it was a hip injury that ended his Australian Open hopes during his quarter-final with Marin Cilic, which led to a three-month layoff.
A timely return for the clay court season saw the Spaniard embark on his typically dominant run of form on the red dust, winning three of four tournaments, including a quite incredible 11th French Open.
Nadal also excelled away from the clay, reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals where he went down to Djokovic in a five-set epic, before winning the Rogers Cup. He also looked in fine fettle at the US Open until his semi-final retirement, which proved to be his final act of the season.
It meant Nadal ended 2018 with a 45-4 win-loss record, but two of those defeats were retirements.
Nadal, 32, arrives in Abu Dhabi as the MWTC's most successful player, and will be looking to extend his record haul to five titles this month.
Kevin Anderson (South Africa)
World ranking: 6
2018 highlights: Two titles (New York Open, Vienna Open)
MWTC appearances (best result): 2 (Champion 2017)
If 2017 proved to be somewhat of a breakthrough season for Anderson, 2018 was when he showed he truly belonged among the elite of men's tennis. For much of his career a perennial top-20 player, Anderson broke into the top-10 in February and stayed there all year.
His two titles, in New York and Vienna, were just rewards for his consistency throughout the season, but his most memorable campaign undoubtedly came at Wimbledon.
After fighting back from two sets down against Roger Federer in the quarter-finals to win 13-11 in the fifth, Anderson's remarkable levels of endurance and concentration were once again on show in the semi-finals where he edged out John Isner 26-24 in the deciding set in what was the second-longest match in history. He understandably ran out of steam in the final against Djokovic, but Anderson provided more thrills than any player at the All England Club.
The 32-year-old South African returns to Abu Dhabi as defending champion and will want to end the year by retaining his title.
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Dominic Thiem (Austria)
World ranking: 8
2018 highlights: Three titles (Buenos Aires Open, Lyon Open, St Petersburg Open)
MWTC appearances (best result): 1 (Semi-finals 2017)
There are plenty of reasons for Thiem to look back on his 2018 season with fond memories. He continued to prove his pedigree as one of the world's finest clay court players with titles in Buenos Aires and Lyon, and his first appearance in a grand slam final.
Unfortunately for the Austrian, he came up against the Nadal juggernaut in Paris. Although he can lay claim to being the only player to beat the incomparable Spaniard on clay in 2018 following his Madrid Masters victory.
However, it was away from the clay that Thiem, 25, can reflect with as much pride. He collected his second non-clay court title at the indoor tournament in St Petersburg, reached the US Open quarter-finals – his first at a grand slam outside of Roland Garros – and achieved his first hard court Masters semi-final in Paris.
Given his vast improvement on hard courts, Thiem has the game to go all the way in Abu Dhabi.
Karen Khachanov (Russia)
World ranking: 11
2018 highlights: Three titles (Marseille Open, Kremlin Cup, Paris Masters)
MWTC appearances (best result): Debut
Among the players leading the charge for the next generation, 22-year-old Khachanov surged up the world rankings having started the year 45th. Titles in Marseille and Moscow contributed to his breakthrough year, and there was his absorbing four-set battle with Nadal at the US Open.
But the defining moment of his season, and indeed his career so far, came at the Paris Masters where he beat four top-10 players, including Djokovic in the final, to claim his first Masters title.
Speaking to The National in the build-up to MWTC, Khachanov said he was “working harder than ever” to prepare for the 2019 season, so expect the talented Russian to kick on further next year.
Making his debut in Abu Dhabi this month, Khachanov has proved he can mix it with the very best and will be hoping to do the same in the capital.
Hyeon Chung (South Korea)
World ranking: 25
2018 highlights: Australian Open semi-final
MWTC appearances (best result): Debut
Like Khachanov, Chung is another player expected to play a prominent role in the future of men's tennis. The season started in impressive fashion, with a run to the Australian Open semi-finals, beating Djokovic en route.
However, the Korean No 1's promising season was continually interrupted by injury, although wins over the likes of Tomas Berdych and Jack Sock offered reminders of his talent.
Chung, 22, will be hoping his injury issues are behind him ahead of the new season, and a strong showing in Abu Dhabi might well be the kick-start he needs for a strong 2019.
Serena Williams (USA)
World ranking: 16
2018 highlights: Wimbledon, US Open finals
MWTC appearances: 1
The announcement that Serena Williams would be returning to Abu Dhabi to play sister Venus transformed this year's tournament line-up into arguably it's best ever, such is the enduring star power of the American.
Williams took her first tentative steps back to professional tennis at MWTC last year when she competed in the inaugural women's match against Jelena Ostapenko after nearly a year out due to pregnancy and the birth of her daughter.
Williams, a 23-time grand slam champion, understandably took on a selective schedule in 2018, making her first competitive appearance at Indian Wells in March before reaching the French Open quarter-finals.
The former world No 1 then embarked on a fairy-tale run at Wimbledon, but was denied a perfect ending – and eighth title – by Angelique Kerber in the final.
Williams, 37, also reached the US Open final where she found herself at the centre of controversy involving the umpire, before losing to Naomi Osaka.
While Williams' presence in Abu Dhabi last year offered her an opportunity to get back on court, this year she is sure to approach the match in a more competitive frame of mind as she gears up for the Australian Open next month.
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Venus Williams (USA)
World ranking: 38
2018 highlights: Indian Wells semi-finals
MWTC appearances: Debut
Given her remarkably high standards, 2018 proved a frustrating season for former world No 1 Williams, whose best result was a semi-final appearance at Indian Wells.
In 2017, the American reached the finals of the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the WTA Finals to prove that she remains a serious contender even in the twilight of her career.
Williams, 38, is making her debut in Abu Dhabi, but has already found success in the UAE having won the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on three occasions.
Like sister Serena, Williams will be looking to fine tune her game in Abu Dhabi ahead of the Australian Open – where she will be bidding for a fifth title.
Updated: December 25, 2018 12:37 PM