Abu Dhabi - Former
world No 1 Serena Williams will make a surprise comeback at the
Mubadala exhibition event in Abu Dhabi next Saturday, as she gears up
for her Australian Open title defence in January.
The decision to play in the United Arab Emirates should virtually confirm Williams' participation at Melbourne Park.
The 36-year-old has not played since clinching a 23rd Grand Slam
singles title 11 months ago, after revealing she was pregnant during the
tournament and taking time off to give birth to her first child, Alexis
Olympia in September.
Williams will return with a match against Latvia's French Open
champion Jelena Ostapenko, making them the first women to compete in the
previously male-only event.
"I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the
first time since the birth of my daughter," she said in a statement
released by the tournament organisers on Sunday.
"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
The former world number one can equal Margaret Court's all-time
record of 24 Grand Slam titles, although she will have to make do with a
low seeding Down Under after slipping to 22nd in the rankings.
Williams' comeback raises the prospect of a renewal of her one-sided
rivalry with Maria Sharapova, after the Russian's own comeback earlier
this year from a doping ban.
It also provides a boost the Australian Open, after two-time champion
Victoria Azarenka pulled out of the warm-up event in Auckland over the
ongoing custody battle that has stopped the Belarusian from playing
since Wimbledon in July.
Serena claimed an Open-era record 23rd major title by beating older
sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in this year's Australian Open final, a feat made
all the more remarkable by the fact that she was two months pregnant.
Ostapenko broke through with a stunning French Open title, and the 20-year-old will take on Serena for the first time.
The Mubadala event had already seen men's world number one Rafael Nadal and three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka withdraw.
The six-strong men's field in Abu Dhabi does feature Serb Novak Djokovic, who will also be making his comeback.
The 12-time Grand Slam champion has not played competitively since
his quarter-final loss to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon because of an elbow