Serena Williams, who has not played a competitive match since capturing last year’s Australian Open, will return to the court next month at a Fed Cup tie, the United States Tennis Association announced Tuesday.
Williams was pregnant when she won her 23rd major crown last January in Melbourne. She gave birth to a girl, Alexis Olympia, last September and married father Alexis Ohanian in November.
The defending Fed Cup champion Americans will play host to the Netherlands in a first-round tie February 10-11 on an indoor hard-court at Asheville, North Carolina.
Joining 22nd-ranked Williams on the US squad will be her sister seven-time Grand Slam champion, Venus, and ninth-ranked CoCo Vandeweghe, a semi-finalist at last year’s US and Australian Opens in her best major results.
This will be the first time in two years that either Williams sister has been on the US Fed Cup squad. The US women have never lost in eight ties when both Williams sisters have been named to the squad, the most recent of those wins in 2015.
Last year’s US Open runner-up Madison Keys was not named in the squad but she told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday that she spoke with team captain Kathy Rinaldi, who asked her to commit to the second Fed Cup tie of the year instead.
Keys is thrilled Serena is coming back.
“I think it’s always great to have Serena around and playing. She’s the best female tennis player ever, arguably the best tennis player ever. So to have her playing in the sport is always good. Also to have her playing Fed Cup, it’s always fun to be on a team with Serena. I’m very much looking forward to having her back on the tour,” said the 22-year-old Keys.
Serena last played Fed Cup in April 2015, when she won two singles matches in a World Group playoff loss to Italy in Brindisi.
Venus, ranked fifth, won two singles matches in her most recent Fed Cup appearance in a 2016 tie against Poland in Hawaii.
Vandeweghe went a combined 8-0 in singles and doubles for the US Fed Cup team last year, the first player with eight wins in the same year in more than 20 seasons.
The final member of the US squad and the Dutch line-up will be announced next week, the USTA announcement said.
The Americans are 6-2 against the Dutch in their all-time rivalry, but the most recent meeting was a 5-0 US home sweep in 1998. The only Dutch wins came in 1968 and 1997.
World number one Rafael Nadal faces three weeks out after being diagnosed with a torn inner hip muscle during his Australian Open quarter-final defeat, his management said Wednesday.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion had a scan in a Melbourne hospital after he retired early in the fifth set of his match with Croatia’s Marin Cilic on Tuesday.
“The MRI (scan) showed a grade one injury of his illiopsoas on his right leg,” his management said in a statement.
“He will be resting over the next days once back in Spain and will start with anti-inflammatory physiotherapy.
“He will start his rehabilitation and pre-adaptation process to the tennis court in two weeks, starting progressively his training and practice.”
The Nadal team said the Spanish star was expected to be fully recovered in three weeks and could resume playing in Acapulco late next month.
“Three weeks is the normal time to totally recover and he will resume his tennis schedule as planned, playing Acapulco, Indian Wells and Miami,” the statement said.
The Spaniard was forced to withdraw when trailing Marin Cilic 0-2 in the fifth set and called on tour organisers to do more to halt injuries to top players.
His comments followed the withdrawals of Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori before the tournament started and Novak Djokovic struggling ahead of his exit on Monday.
“Somebody who is running the tour should think a little bit about what’s going on. Too many people are getting injured,” Nadal said.
“I don’t know if they think a little bit about the health of the players. I don’t know if we keep playing on these very hard surfaces what’s going to happen in the future with our lives.”
It was the second time Nadal had been forced to pull out with injury in Melbourne after calling it quits in the third set of his 2010 quarter-final against Andy Murray with a knee problem.
Tunisian Ons Jabeur has started the new season with new coach, Diego Veronelli, in her corner and her husband, Karim Kamoun, serving as her fitness trainer, as she looks to back up her breakthrough 2017 with more success over the next 12 months.
Jabeur, who became the first Arab woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam in singles at last year’s Roland Garros, is ranked 95 in the world and will be playing just her second major as a direct entrant this fortnight in Melbourne.
The 23-year-old starts her Australian Open campaign against 16th-seeded Elena Vesnina on Tuesday, looking for her first match win of the 2018 season.
Jabeur spent the first part of her preparations for 2018 at Empire Tennis Academy in Trnava, Slovakia alongside other WTA players like Daria Kasatkina and Kateryna Kozlova, before travelling to Dubai, where she met up with her new coach Veronelli, who previously coached Heather Watson.
“It’s going pretty good, I like the practice with him. It’s a new challenge, new experience for me so I’m looking forward to our first tournament and see how it goes,” Jabeur told Sport360 in Dubai last month.
Veronelli, an Argentinean former player, and Jabeur hit it off from the start, and they finish their practices by competing against each other in various challenges — it was a serving contest the day I attended her practice.
“We always compete, not only on the serve. It’s kind of funny because I told him from day one, ‘I love challenges, so if you make me do a challenge, even if I’m 100 per cent tired, I’m going to be on fire,” explained Jabeur.
“So that’s what we’ve been doing since day one. This morning we were doing a lot things today, he lost so he had to do some burpees, but then I lost so I had to do also, but it’s fun, I like it that way.”
Jabeur started travelling with her husband Kamoun as her fitness trainer in the second half of last season. Kamoun, a Tunisian-Russian, who is a former fencer, can be seen on the sidelines during her practices, taking notes and writing up training programmes for his wife.
“He’s kind of torturing me on the court and then after I just want to punch him so I don’t know how it’s going to be,” Jabeur says laughing.
“No but we try to be professional on the court and forget a little bit that he’s my husband. For now it’s going good but we’ll see after a few months.”
Jabeur is a crafty young player with high tennis IQ. She won Roland Garros junior champion and made her top-100 debut last year.
“I’ve noticed she has a lot of potential. Of course a lot of things to improve, and those things don’t come day to night, it takes some time, but there’s hope and I like that in a player,” says Veronelli.
Jabeur will be competing in her second Australian Open main draw (lost in 2015 first round) but faces a tricky task against the 19th-ranked Vesnina.