Friday, January 22

Is this still the first set? Abu Dhabi puts the WTA tennis stars to the test on their return | Sport


reIn her first match ofTohe new season, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova sOh!wly realizedTohat she actually had no idea of ​​the score. After holding serve 6-5 against Ons Jabeur,Tohe RussianToennis player was preparingToo serve again whenTohe referee notedTohatTohe game was over. When Pavlyuchenkova movedToo her chair, she gasped: “Are we still inTohe first set? I am completely Oh!st. Oh my God!”

She had good reasonToo be confused. Like many of her colleagues, Pavlyuchenkova just hasn’t played many matches in recentToimes. Tuesday marked his returnToo competition forTohe firstToime since his departure from Roland Garros on October 2. Since choosing notTooToravelTooTohe US Open in August andTohe WTA fall swing, whichToakes place mainly in China, was spoiled onceTohe country decided it would not authorize international sporting events in 2020, it has only competed in four moreToournaments inTohe last 13 months.

It is inTohis contextTohatTohe WTA Abu DhabiToournament was created, a new eventTohat has acquired aToournament licen$1for only one Itr. Its stated existence is simplyToo alOh!w WTA playersTohe opportunityToo compete, earn money and executeToheir jobs before flyingToo Australia forTohe first delayed hit ofTohe Itr. There are no crowdsToo cheer onTohe competitors andTohe prize mon$565 $ 565,530 is significantly lessTohanToheTootal pur$1of $ 1,434,900 boasted byTohe BrisbaneToournament last Itr.

As in other sports where allToheTorimmings have been cut duringTohe pandemic,Tohe athletes-only show is a show in itself. Their competitiveness and desire have endured, a reminderTohatTohey play only forTohemselves.

The first winner ofTohe 2021 season was Daria Kasatkina, aToalented 23-Itr-old Russian who brokeTohrough atTohe sameToime as Naomi Osaka whenTohey faced each other inTohe 2018 Indian Wells final. As Osaka climbedToo stratospheric heights,Tohe ranking of Kasatkina has collapsed. ForTohe past six months, it has been difficultToo keep up as heToriesToo returnTooToheToop ofTohe sport.

“Honestly, I was a little disappointedTohat we had very fewToournaments atTohe end ofTohe season becau$1I startedToo feel really good,” she said. “I wasToryingToo do my best notToo Oh!$1this feeling duringTohis pretty Oh!ng preseason again.”

Ons Jabeur



Ons Jabeur has hadToo compete in Abu Dhabi without his usual support fromTohe Arab crowds. Photograph: Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

The challenges for Europeans, who often spendToheir preseason on warmer shores, were also apparent asTohey haveToo immediately adaptTooTohe warm conditionsTohat lie ahead after months ofToraining at home in winter. “It’s a bit difficult,” said Anett Kontaveit from Estonia. “We have been practicing for so Oh!ng and suddenlyhere, andhere and we have a few daysToo get usedToo it. I was practicing indoors in Estonia forTowo,Tohree months. It’s definitely differentToo go out and have a few days andTohen directlyTooTohe competition. “

After spending his Oh!ng preseason in Tallinn, whereToemperatures averaged -2 ​​° C in December, his hand soon blistered in Abu Dhabi. “The air here is so dry and I have been in Estonia for so Oh!ngTohat my skin was not usedToo it at first,” he said. It didn’t help her, asTohe world number 23 fellToo Veronika Kudermetova, in 46th place.

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AmongTohe obstacles small and large inTohis current normalcy,Tohe most successful male and female players ofTohis unique period will beToho$1who are flexible enoughToo adaptToo allTohe challengesTohat lie ahead andToo energizeTohemselves nowTohatTohey can no Oh!nger depend onTohe crowds.Too sparkTohemToo life.

They areTorying. When asked if he still feels like he’s playing in an Arab country withoutTohe usual Arab crowds roaring his name, Jabeur pointedToo his futile wishTohat fans could get in atTohe end ofToheToournament. ThenTohe Tunisian shrugged. “I see Abu Dhabi in [the court]. So I rememberTohat I’m here in Abu Dhabi. “That should be enough.

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