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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Serena Williams competing at Mubadala World Tennis Championship is 'perfect timing' for the player and tournament

The tournament director of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship has said that having Serena Williams compete in the first women's match on Saturday is "perfect timing".

Williams, a 23-time major winner, will go up against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko at the International Tennis Stadium at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi during the final day of the three-day event.

It will be her first public appearance on court since she gave birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian in September, and Vickie Gunnarsson, who has served as tournament director at all 10 stagings of the competition, said things had fallen into place for the American to compete in the UAE.

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Although it is yet to be officially confirmed, Williams, 36, is expected to make her return to the WTA Tour at next month's Australian Open, the last tournament she competed in before announcing her pregnancy and where she is defending champion.

"It is perfect timing in many ways as all eyes are on Serena ahead of the Australian Open," Gunnarsson said.

"What is she going to do? When is she going to come back? How is her form? So there is just so much interest around her so we are very happy to have her here."

The addition this week of a women's match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, particularly one involving Williams, came as a surprise. But Gunnarsson revealed that "this was something that Abu Dhabi has had their eyes on for a long time".

"We knew she was keen on practising and this opportunity came about. We felt that it was the right time to provide a new great experience for our spectators."

Of what people can expect from Ostapenko when she faces Williams, Gunnarsson said: "She will be very eager to play against Serena and test her game against her.

"Jelena is the reigning French Open champion and Serena the reigning Australian Open champion so I think it is going to be a great match. I think they will both bring something different for the fans."

As to whether the inclusion of at least one women's match in the tournament schedule will become a regular thing, Gunnarsson said she and the other organisers would see how Saturday's occasion is received, but that that she had been delighted by the response to the news.

"I think we are going to see how it goes," she said. "We definitely have had a lot of interest around this element.

"We have had really positive feedback on the PR and media side and tickets are going very well as well. So definitely we will keep an eye and see how we go about it next year.

"But for now we are trying it out and it is an additional match that we are providing our fans with that they can experience."