Kevin Anderson broke the roll call of past champions at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship to become the first player other than Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, to win the season-opener in Abu Dhabi.
Fitting, perhaps, on the tournament’s 10th anniversary in the UAE capital that a new name should be etched into the history books.
And Anderson, who at the age of 31 is playing the best tennis of his career, was deserving of an impressive 6-4, 7-6 (0) win over Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut under the lights at Zayed Sports City on Saturday night.
It was just about the perfect few days for the South African, who beat Pablo Carreno Busta and Dominic Thiem — two players ranked higher than him – on his way to victory on his second appearance at the event.
“I’ve played three very good matches here this week and I thought the final was of high-quality. Both of us are really looking forward to the start of the season and it’s such a great opportunity to come here to Abu Dhabi,” Anderson, the 2017 US Open finalist, said during his on-court interview.
“Everybody competed really hard, it’s a terrific atmosphere so hopefully I’ll be able to come back more times in the future. I see that there were lots of South Africans in the crowd supporting me all week, and it’s fantastic to see tennis thriving in this part of the world.”
With injuries to the likes of Murray, Djokovic and Nadal, the world number 14 could well be one of the experienced men, but an outsider, looking to do some damage on the fast courts of Melbourne at the Australian Open next month.
“Yes, definitely (using win as springboard going into new season). I just want to thank everybody at the tournament, a special thanks to sponsor Mubadala and it’s just a really good event to be part of.”
Bautista Agut, equally, was in a positive mood after more than playing his part in a competitive showpiece occasion.
He said: “I’ve had some great support here, I really enjoyed playing on this court so thanks a lot to everyone over these three days. It’s a really good event to come and play and I’ve had a good experience here. It’s important to play strong matches going into 2018 and I’m very happy to play the final.”
Serena Williams admits she’s taking her comeback “one day at a time” and is uncertain when she will feel completely ready to return to the tour but assured she is “not done yet”.
The American legend made her first public appearance on a match court since having her first child Alexis Olympia early September, by taking on Jelena Ostapenko at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam champion, lost 6-2, 3-6, [10-5] to the world No. 7, in what was her first match since winning the Australian Open 11 months ago.
“It felt good to be back out there. I missed playing, I missed the competition, I missed the crowd, the atmosphere, it’s so much that you don’t see so it was really nice to be back out there,” the 36-year-old told reporters after the match.
It is the first time Serena travelled to a tournament with her baby and she confessed her mind wandered to her child while she was on the court.
“It was definitely a new experience. It played out pretty well. In the middle of the match I looked over and I was like ‘is Olympia okay?’ Because usually I’m always with her,” said Serena.
“So I don’t know how I’m going to be able to manage that, but maybe I’ll just always look over in the middle of a Grand Slam and be like ‘is Olympia okay?’ But when she gets older she’ll be able to actually come out to the matches.”
That statement implies Serena is keen to return to the tour and continue playing until her daughter is old enough to show up to matches but the American was more reserved when discussing her imminent plans, particularly whether she plans on defending her Australian Open title in Melbourne in less than three weeks’ time.
“I don’t know. I’m going to go and just assess what I want, and what I want to do and figure that out,” she said when asked where she was heading next after Abu Dhabi.
When quizzed about whether she’ll play in Melbourne, the ex-world No. 1 said: “I’m taking it one day at a time. I’m going to assess everything with Patrick (Mouratoglou her coach) and my team and go from there.”
Serena would not reveal exactly when she started training again. Against Ostapenko, she started moving better as the match went on, but she admits she still has a way to go.
“I don’t know if I’m totally ready yet or not (to get back to the tour). When I come back, I definitely want to be competing for championships. Somebody asked me the other day when I started and I couldn’t remember, and I still can’t remember. I guess it’s kind of all a blur,” said Serena.
“When you have the baby and you’re training, and then you go back to the baby, it’s been a while. I don’t know. But I definitely look forward to getting back out there.”
"I’m taking it one day at a time" pic.twitter.com/4xRNcA9VLf
— Sport360° (@Sport360) December 30, 2017
While Serena may sound sceptical when discussing details about her return, she is clear about one thing — she is not done yet with the sport.
“I think everything is so much easier for me to approach (my comeback) having my daughter at home waiting for me and knowing that yeah I’ve won 23 Grand Slam singles title, I don’t know how many other titles… I don’t have anything to prove but I just want to go out there and play. I’m not done yet, so…” she says.
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.”
More from Serena here…