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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 January 2021

UAE sporting moments - No 21: Serena Williams makes return to tennis in Abu Dhabi

After giving birth and recovering from health issues, the American played the 2017 Mubadala World Tennis Championship


Each day over three weeks, The National counts down the most memorable moments in UAE sports history.

The Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi has been attracting the biggest players in the world since its launch in 2009.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are regular participants, while the likes of Andy Murray, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Milos Raonic have all competed in the pre-season exhibition tournament over the years.

In 2017, the six-player men's event was headlined by Djokovic – although he withdrew on the eve of the tournament – and featured current world No 3 Dominic Thiem, two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson, Spanish pair Roberto Bautista Agut and Pablo Carreno Busta, and Russia's Andrey Rublev.

But despite the talent on display, all the focus was on the superstar set to compete in the inaugural women's match.

Serena Williams had been inactive since winning the Australian Open 11 months earlier, the 23-time Grand Slam champion taking the rest of the year off to give birth to her first child.

The match was against the reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and while Williams would lose the contest 6–2, 3–6, [10–5], her return to court was a triumph in itself.

Williams endured health complications during childbirth, suffering a pulmonary embolism that meant she had to undergo a cesarean-section delivery. Another pulmonary embolism after giving birth left Williams bed-ridden for six weeks. At that stage, it was doubtful Williams would ever return to competitive tennis.

The American's delight at being back out on court was clear throughout the match at Zayed Sports City. Williams frequently waved and smiled at daughter Olympia, who was watching her mother play for the first time.

“It felt good to be back out there,” Williams said. “I missed playing, I missed the competition, I missed the crowd, the atmosphere, so it was really nice to be back out there.

“At the beginning, I had a tonne of trepidation out there, but as the match went on I was less afraid – that I’m not going to fall over and break.

“And the more I played, the more confident I felt, the more I was actually able to go for shots that I was afraid to go for in the first set.

“I think that was really good, and I feel like this was a wonderful opportunity and test to see where I am, not only physically but mentally.

“It’s a lot that goes on to a female’s body after you have a baby, so I think it was perfect.”

The following season, Williams went on to reach two Grand Slam finals, at Wimbledon and the US Open.

And it started with those first baby steps in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: July 5, 2020 04:53 PM

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