Serena Williams returns to action against Jelena Ostapenko at Mubadala World Tennis Championship
Serena Williams will make her return to court at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, organisers announced on Sunday.
Williams, the 23-time grand slam champion, has not played competitively since winning the Australian Open in January, taking time out from the sport to give birth to her first child, daughter Alexis Olympia, in September.
The American former world No 1 is scheduled to defend her Melbourne title next month, but in an unprecedented move, she will be part of the first ever women's match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi. Williams's match against Latvian world No 7 Ostapenko will take place at 5pm on Saturday, the third and final day of the tournament.
“I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the birth of my daughter in September," Williams said in a statement on Sunday.
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"The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has long marked the beginning of the men’s global tennis season and I am excited and honoured to be making my comeback as part of the first women to participate in the event.
"I look forward to seeing the fans in Abu Dhabi at the 10th Edition of the Championship very soon.”
Williams will face one of the breakout stars of women's tennis in 2017. Ostapenko, 20, enjoyed a stunning rise last season, winning her first grand slam title at the French Open before ending the year ranked No 7.
“I am thrilled to be playing in Abu Dhabi at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship," Ostapenko said. "This will be the first time that women have taken part in the event and it is a huge honour to be part of that history after watching the tournament for many years.
"Last season was really incredible for me and I cannot wait to continue the start of my new season at such an amazing event.”
Entering its 10th edition, the Mubadala World Tennis Championship is a six-player invitational tournament that has been used as a tune-up event ahead of the new season by some of the best male players in the world.
This year's event will see the long-awaited return to action of former world No 1 Novak Djokovic, who has not played competitive tennis since withdrawing from Wimbledon in July.
The Serbian 14-time grand slam champion is joined by Austrian world No 5 Dominic Thiem, US Open finalist Kevin Anderson, ranked No 14 from South Africa, Spanish world No 10 Pablo Carreno Busta, his compatriot Roberto Bautista Agut, ranked No 20, and Russian Next Gen star Andrey Rublev.
However, the inclusion of a women's match - particularly one involving Williams on her return - has added a new and exciting dimension to this year's tournament.
“For the tennis fans in the UAE, having Serena here as part of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship weekend is a thrilling opportunity to see even more world-class tennis," said Brian Lott, Chief Communications Officer of title sponsor Mubadala.
"She’s not only an incredible champion, she’s a role model for millions of athletes all over the world and she joins Jelena in offering the UAE a match worthy of grand slam heritage right in the centre of Abu Dhabi.”
Day 1 of the tournament, on Thursday, will host the men's quarter-final matches, with Carreno Busta and Anderson first on court at 5pm, followed by Bautista Agut against Rublev from 7pm.
As the two highest-seeds, Thiem and Djokovic will await the winners in Friday's semi-final, with Thiem taking on the victor from the first match, and Djokovic the second.
Saturday will kick off with the third-place play-off at 2.30pm, followed by Williams against Ostapenko, and concluding with the final at 7pm.