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Serena Williams to return in Abu Dhabi next week

ABU DHABI: Former world number one Serena Williams will make her much-anticipated competitive return with an exhibition match on the final day of the Mubadala exhibition event on December 30, tournament organisers announced on Sunday.

The 36-year-old, who has won an Open-era record 23 Grand Slam singles titles, will take on reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.

Williams won the Australian Open 11 months ago but has not played since because of pregnancy and the birth of her first child, Alexis Olympia, in September. She has since fallen to 22 in the WTA rankings.

The American, who has never played the 20-year-old Ostapenko, will face the Latvian in the tournament’s first ever women’s match.

“I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the birth of my daughter,” she said in a statement on the tournament’s website.

“The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has long marked the beginning of the men’s global tennis season and I am excited and honoured to be making my comeback as part of the first women to participate in the event.”

Williams can equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam titles at Melbourne Park next month.

The six-strong men’s field in Abu Dhabi features former world number one Novak Djokovic, who will also be making his comeback.

The Serb has not played competitively since his quarter-final loss at Wimbledon in July because of an elbow injury.

The exhibition tournament, which starts December 28, had earlier lost a couple of star attractions, including multiple Grand Slam champions Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

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