MWTC talking points: Rafael Nadal's game not there yet, and Venus Williams makes strong pitch for women
Here are Graham Caygill's talking points from this year's Mubadala World Tennis Championship
Williams put forward strong case
Venus Williams was one of three debutants at the 11th staging of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship this year along with Karen Khachanov and Hyeon Chung.
She enjoyed her first time at the tournament in Abu Dhabi, and not just because she got one over on her younger sibling Serena by winning their women's exhibition match on Thursday.
In fact she relished the surroundings at the International Tennis Centre in Zayed Sports City so much that she came away wanting more, not just for herself, but for the women's game.
“I wish I had a few matches here to be honest," the seven-time major winner said. "Maybe next year there’ll be kind of a women’s tournament format just to have more matches and more matches against the best players in the world.”
The introduction of women's matches, which began 12 months ago when Serena took on Jelena Ostapenko, has proven to be a hit with fans.
Thursday's sell-out for the Williams sisters showed there is a big interest.
There would be challenges with schedules in the event's current format for adding more matches.
But the Williams sisters, and the reaction to them playing, has definitely put a strong case forward for more women being involved in the 12th staging of the competition.
Patience needed for Nadal
Given he not been on court in a match situation since September, it was in hindsight too much to expect Rafael Nadal to roll out on court and start blasting winners from all angles.
There was still some vintage Nadal on view in the loss to Kevin Anderson in the semi-finals, with a couple of fantastic service winners and a crunching forehand down the line among the highlights.
It was sensible to give himself to recover from a long match by not playing on Saturday in the play-off for third place, as disappointing as it would have been for spectators not to see him.
The goal is understandably the Australian Open in January. Nadal will likely be fit to play, but with limited preparation do not expect a big run from him in Melbourne.
The real business time for Nadal is the clay season in the early summer so if he can spend the next few months building up his fitness he could be in for another successful 2019.
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Russia has not had a male grand slam winner since Marat Safin in 2005. But in Khachanov they may have the man to end that wait.
He ended 2018 on a high with his Paris Masters success, and he has impressed at the MWTC with his powerful groundstrokes and willingness to go for winners from all angles.
His straight sets loss to Novak Djokovic in the semi-final was a reminder the 22 year old is by far from being the finished article.
He had beaten Djokovic to win his Paris title, but on Friday the world No 1 was far too good for him.
Consistency and shot selection are the elements Khachanov has to work on, but he can rightly go to Australia with real confidence of making an impact in Melbourne.
It might be a little early for him to dream of mirroring Safin, but he is not too far off.
Hope for Thiem
He may have ended up losing all three of his matches in Abu Dhabi this weekend, but Dominic Thiem's game is clearly a work in progress.
Injuries disrupted his 2018 season and he usually plays his best tennis once he has some momentum behind him.
That is usually achieved by spending time on court, and even though he did not get a victory he is better off for the time spent playing.
He lost in the semi-finals in straight sets to Anderson 12 months ago, before winning an exhibition against Pablo Carreno Busta.
He then went on to reach the last 16 at the Australian Open so history tells us do not worry about the world No 8's form just yet.
Updated: December 29, 2018 07:20 PM