Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open Coming Into Focus

WASHINGTON, December 23, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

The 2021 WTA season begins in two weeks in Abu Dhabi, the capital city of the United Arab Emirates, with the inaugural Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open. It will take place from Jan. 5-13 at Zayed Sports City, a familiar locale which has hosted the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) exhibition series since 2009.

Although this year’s MWTC was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Abu Dhabi provided the WTA with an opportunity to start the 2021 season in a safe environment and one that would provide access for players to travel to Dubai for the Australian Open qualifying tournament and, ultimately, to the Australian Open in Melbourne, whose start date was pushed back by three weeks to February 8.

With the Abu Dhabi Sports Council giving the green light, the WTA will come to this emirate city for the first time. The 64-player draw for the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open provides for a world-class tournament at the International Tennis Centre to start the 2021 season. Designated by the WTA as a WTA 500 series event, it will be headlined by World No. 4 Sofia Kenin and include World No. 5 Elina Svitolina and World No. 6 Karolina Pliskova as well No. 12 Belinda Bencic and No. 14 Johanna Konta. World No. 2 Simona Halep, who was originally thought to be the top seed in Abu Dhabi, on Tuesday following “last-minute consultations with her team” decided not to go to the emirate and, instead, will play her first tournament of the year in Australia in one of the WTA 500 series events in Melbourne prior to the Australian Open.

“I think the UAE is an amazing place that it kept itself so organized in terms of virus control and kept the country so safe and that’s why you have these events happening in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” Bharat Godkhindi, tournament director of the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open, told The National recently. “This is only because of the country and how safe it is and how open it is about bring people to come and play out here.”

At present, no fans will be allowed on site at the tournament.

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Elsewhere, three-time Grand Slam champion Andy Murray, playing in his final 2020 match, defeated British No. 3 Cameron Norrie, ranked 71st, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in two hours and 17 minutes. Murray, who is currently ranked No. 122 – fourth highest in Great Britain – looked encouraging in both his Tuesday win over Norrie as well as his earlier win on Sunday against Evans.

Meanwhile, British women’s No. 2 Heather Watson, the highest-ranked at No. 58 among the women competing in the four-day round-robin event, faced British No. 11 Emma Raducanu, ranked 345th, in a matchup of previously undefeated players. The match went the distance and was won by Watson in a match-tie break, 3-6, 6-3, 10-2, in one hour and 46 minutes. On Wednesday, Watson will oppose Francesca Jones in an attempt to go 4-0.

Other Tuesday winners: Jones, Eden Silva, Katy Dunne, Anton Matusevich and Jack Draper.

The Battle of the Brits Premier League of Tennis was organized by Jamie Murray and the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to help British players get ready for the upcoming 2021 season with competitive matches.The four-day round-robin competition wraps up on Wednesday.

Battle of the Brits Tuesday results/standings

Battle of the Brits Wednesday schedule

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What they’re writing

Reem Abulleil, who writes about tennis for The National, explains why Abu Dhabi is a safe destination for the WTA to start its 2021 season.