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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Serena Williams shows flashes of her top form, Ostapenko can be No 1 in 2018 and Anderson underlines his class: MWTC talking points

Following the completion of the 10th staging of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, here is a look at some of the things to watch for in the 2018 season.

Serena Williams may need more practice time but she is capable of challenging at the Australain Open if she does compete. Tom Dulat / Getty Images
Serena Williams may need more practice time but she is capable of challenging at the Australain Open if she does compete. Tom Dulat / Getty Images

Williams capable of competing in Melbourne

You could be sure that a lot of the leading players on the WTA Tour would have had one eye on Abu Dhabi on Saturday to see just what kind of shape Serena Williams was in on her return to tennis.

The 23-time major winner made her first public appearance on a court in 11 months in her exhibition match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship against world No 7 Jelena Ostapenko.

Yes, she lost the encounter 6-2, 3-6, 10-5, but given Williams was playing just four months after giving birth to her daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian, there was a lot to be encouraged about.

Her mobility on court improved greatly as the match wore on. She started slowly, but the timing and confidence in her shot making improved and there were flashes of the Williams of old at times as she struck a number of powerful winners from the back of the court.

Williams, 36, was guarded in her news conference on her plans for 2018, admitting she had not decided yet if she would compete at the Australian Open, which begins on January 15, where she is the defending champion.

Judging things on Saturday's display, there is a lot of work to be done on her fitness and court coverage, and she needs a lot of time on the practice court.

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That is something she may not be able to do, at least quickly, given the challenge of trying to juggle her tennis career and being a new mother.

It is understandable why she is reticent on making a commitment to Melbourne. She is one of the greatest players in the game's history and she would not go just to make up the numbers.

If she did play, she would be likely very fallible in the opening rounds given how rusty her game is.

But, if she could make it through the first week then she is only going to get better with more time on court, so she should not be discounted from challenging for a 24th grand slam title if she does choose to play.

The smart choice is probably to rest until the spring, but Williams has already caused a surprise by being competitive against the reigning French Open champion.

As Ostapenko herself said: "I think not many players can play at such a high level after being out for a long time."

It might not be in January, but Williams will challenge for more major titles before 2018 is out.

Ostapenko can be No 1 in 2018

Yes, it was an exhibition victory. But Ostapenko's triumph over Williams was a reminder of just why the Latvian could be the player to watch in the women's game in 2018.

The action at Zayed Sports City was in the many ways the epitome of why the 20 year old became a grand slam winner in Paris in June when she came from a set down to beat current world No 1 Simona Halep in the final.

Her willingness to go for winners at all times, even when the ball was coming to her at awkward angles and pace was fun to watch.

When it comes off, as a lot of them did on Saturday, she is almost unplayable.

The downside is there were a lot of unforced errors and dips in her performance, which did allow Williams to get a foothold in the match after Ostapenko had threatened to run away with it.

What Ostapenko's challenge is going to be is balancing still being the exciting player who is a winner-hitting machine with being a little more circumspect.

But, her potential is great and she has to be a real contender for the title at the Australian Open.

Consistency is what she said she is looking to improve in her game the most in 2018.

She starts the year at No 7 in the WTA rankings, but given she she is only 1,175 points behind Halep, if she can be more consistent then there is no reason why 12 months from now she is not reflecting on a year that saw her become No 1 in the women's game.

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Anderson will be contender in Melbourne

Kevin Anderson can go to the Australian Open with real confidence that he can prove that his run to the US Open final last September was no fluke.

The world No 14 was very impressive in Abu Dhabi as he defeated Pablo Carreno Busta, Dominic Thiem and Roberto Bautista Agut, all without dropping a set, to win the Mubadala title.

The South African served well on all three days, but what stood out was how well he handled the few break points he had to face.

Bautista Agut actually returned very well against the 31 year old in Saturday's final, but said Anderson's power from the baseline with his groundstrokes made it hard for him to put pressure on his opponent.

Anderson had suffered with niggling injuries during 2016 and early 2017 that had limited him but he has been fully fit since the spring and his results, New York particularly, have shown what he can do when healthy.

Even taking into account the fact that there are major injury doubts over world No 1 Rafael Nadal, as well as Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, Anderson looks well placed for a strong run in Melbourne.

He has been to the fourth round three times before, most recently in 2015.

With a good draw, ideally away from defending champion Roger Federer, and if he can keep his Abu Dhabi form up he has a very good chance of reaching the semi-finals or better.

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Rublev one to watch for future

Watching Andrey Rublev in action in Abu Dhabi, it was not difficult to see how he upset two top 10 players in Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin at the US Open.

When the Russian hits the ball hard it really does travel, and there were some winners he struck during his matches in Abu Dhabi that his opponents barely saw before it thudded into the wall behind them.

The world No 39 is an exciting talent and when it gets it right he is a force to be reckoned with.

He remains erratic though and it showed in his quarter-final loss to Bautista Agut as he made as he struck as many unenforced errors as he did winners.

Rublev only turned 20 in October so time is on his side in maturing his game to cut out the mistakes that give his opponents too many easy points at present.

He is one to watch for the future and moving into the top 20 this year in the ATP rankings is definitely an achievable goal for him.

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