Serena Williams admits her mind wandered to her child, Alexis Olympia, while she was playing her first match since becoming a mother, but was pleased to get back to the court for an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Serena, playing for the first time since her Australian Open title success 11 months ago, and less than four months since delivering her first child, lost a tight match to the current world No. 7, 6-2, 3-6, [10-5] in front of a buoyant Abu Dhabi crowd.
“Motherhood is phenomenal. I was a little worried out there and I looked at my camp and I was like ‘is Olympia okay?’. But it’s really good,” Serena said in her on-court interview.
“I’m excited, it’s good to be back on the court. This was such a good time for me.
“It’s my first time playing in Abu Dhabi so thank you guys for the support. First matches back are always super incredibly hard, especially after having a baby but it was great, I’m glad I could do it here.”
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Fans at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship have their say on Serena Williams’ return to the court in the first-ever women’s match at the tournament.
The legendary American made her first appearance since becoming a mother against rising star Jelena Ostapenko at the Zayed Sports City venue in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Dominic Thiem has confirmed that Spaniard Galo Blanco will be travelling with him in 2018, sharing coaching duties with Gunter Bresnik.
Blanco, who ended his four-year partnership with Russian NextGen star Karen Khachanov last month, also previously worked with Milos Raonic.
Thiem, the current world No. 5, says he spent his preseason in Tenerife accompanied by Blanco, and they were on the practice courts together here in Abu Dhabi.
“He was already with me in Tenerife, and the tournaments where Gunter is not going, he’s going with me,” Thiem said on Saturday, after defeating Pablo Carreno Busta in straights in an exhibition match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship.
“Or basically he’s at every tournament until the clay-court season. Some he’s sharing with Gunter, the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami. He’s a really, really good coach and I’m happy that I’m travelling with him as well.”
Asked what he feels Blanco brings to the table, alongside Bresnik, the Austrian said: “He was a professional player himself, he can give me a lot of input, he knows how you feel out there and he knows how you think in tight scores and tight situations, so I think that’s one main thing, and maybe also some new stuff all around my game.”
Thiem next heads to the Qatar Open where he is the top seed. Novak Djokovic pulled out of both Abu Dhabi and Doha citing elbow pain, and the ex-world No. 1 joins a host of top players who have injury question marks surrounding them.
Rafael Nadal withdrew from Brisbane as he continues to recover from a knee problem, Andy Murray is in Brisbane but was far from his best during his exhibition set against Roberto Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi, while Kei Nishikori announced he is pulling out of Sydney.
With several stars struggling to get match fit, does Thiem feel there is a big opportunity for him and others looking to claim their maiden Grand Slam title in Australia?
“For sure, but it’s very early in the season. We also have to step up and go in well in the tournament and start off well. Many guys who were out last year they pulled out also here or in Doha so for sure it’s more chance for us if there are less strong players,” said the 24-year-old.
Thiem played two matches in Abu Dhabi, losing a tight two-setter to Kevin Anderson on Friday before defeating Carreno Busta on Saturday.
He is particularly happy with how he stepped up his form compared to the end of the 2017 season, where he admits he had lost his confidence “completely” following a heartbreaking five-set defeat to Juan Martin del Potro at the US Open in September.
“Compared I think to the last tournaments of the 2017 season it was a huge step forward,” said Thiem of his form in Abu Dhabi.
“I would say I did almost everything better. Kevin was playing great yesterday, he was serving very well. When he serves like this, it’s always tight and always easy to lose and today was a good performance, so overall I’m happy with the tournament.”
On his match against Carreno Busta, Thiem added: “I’m very happy with the way I served especially but in general I think it was a good thing for both of us to play one more match because it was not sure after Novak pulled out and it’s really to have one more match against a top-10 guy before the season. So it was perfect preparation and I’m also quite satisfied the way I played.”