Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka's return, Federer-Nadal battle for No. 1 - Main storylines to look out for in February

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The Australian Open just ended but the travelling circus that is the tennis circuit is already onto its next stop with two WTA tournaments taking place this week in St. Petersburg and Taipei and Davis Cup first round action held this weekend across the world.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Lucas Pouille will lead reigning champions France, who are hosting the Netherlands in Albertville from February 2-4 while a Nick Kyrgios-led Australia face visiting Germany – spearheaded by Alexander Zverev – in Brisbane.

Freshly-crowned Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki is top seed in St. Petersburg, where French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and French duo Caroline Garcia and defending champion Kristina Mladenovic are also competing.

China’s Peng Shuai headlines the field in Taipei.

These are the main storylines to look out for during the upcoming period on the tennis tour…

SERENA’S RETURN

New mum Serena Williams plans on making her first competitive appearance since her Australian Open victory 12 months ago next month (February 10-11) in USA’s Fed Cup first round tie against the Netherlands in Asheville. The Americans are the reigning champions and have brought in their very best to face the Dutch, with Serena joined by her sister Venus, alongside Coco Vandeweghe. It will be Serena’s first Fed Cup showing since 2015, and should ease her back into competition before she heads to Indian Wells in March, which will be her first WTA tournament since Auckland in January 2017.

Serena had her first child, Alexis Olympia, last September. She played an exhibition match against Jelena Ostapenko in Abu Dhabi in December but opted out of defending her Australian Open title saying she wasn’t ready yet to compete at the highest level.

While she will technically have no ranking, having been out of action for over 12 months, Serena can enter tournaments using her Special Ranking, which is the one she had before going on maternity leave. In her case, her Special Ranking is No. 1 and she can use it to enter as many as eight tournaments. She will be unseeded in draws though.

When u forget to grow up

A post shared by Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) on

AZARENKA’S COMEBACK

Victoria Azarenka’s comeback from maternity leave was derailed last year because of a custody dispute that prevented her from travelling with her son Leo out of California. Azarenka has reportedly made headway in the case and has accepted a wildcard into the Qatar Open draw taking place from February 12-17.

The Belarusian ex-world No. 1 has played just two events since having her baby in December 2016. Doha will be her first tournament since Wimbledon last July, where she made the fourth round. Her ranking is currently 208 in the world. Azarenka’s Special Ranking is No. 6 and she can still use it to enter seven tournaments before June 18, 2018. Like Serena, Azarenka will be unseeded in draws.

BATTLE FOR ATP NO. 1

If Roger Federer accepts a wildcard into any tournament in February, he has a chance to overtake Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings, with only 155 points currently separating them. Federer lost in his second match in Dubai last year so only has 45 points to defend next month and has a real chance to get back to No. 1 in the world for the first time since 2012 if he decides to play a tournament before Indian Wells.

But even if he doesn’t play, he can still get to No. 1 without hitting a ball if Nadal, who is recovering from a hip injury, doesn’t defend his runner-up points in Acapulco (starts February 26).

DJOKOVIC’S CONDITION

We are yet to hear from Team Djokovic on what the Serb has decided to do regarding his lingering elbow problem. Novak Djokovic fell to Chung Hyeon in the Australian Open fourth round, while suffering from elbow pain that had kept him out of the game for six months. Will Djokovic go for surgery? Will he need another extended break? We should know more in February.

WOZNIACKI’S POST-SLAM FORM

We’ve seen it many times before; a player wins her first major then suffers a dip in form. American Sloane Stephens hasn’t won a match since lifting the US Open trophy last September. She’s 0-8 since. Can Wozniacki keep up her motivation after finally clinching a maiden Grand Slam title and returning to the top of the rankings? We sure hope so.

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