Nadal and Thiem to make returns from injury at Mubadala Championship in Abu Dhabi
US Open champion Raducanu and Olympic champion Bencic also feature
The 2021 tennis season is far from done.
Sunday saw Novak Djokovic lift the last Masters trophy of the year at Paris-Bercy.
Stockholm is currently hosting the last ATP250 of 2021—and it features big names such as world No10 Jannik Sinner, No11 Felix Auger-Alisasisme, plus three more top 30 players—as well as wild card Andy Murray.
Wait another day, and the cream of the young players on the ATP Tour play the #NextGen finale in Milan, and while Sinner and Auger-Aliassime top the ranks of men age 21 and under, the eight to actually take up the Milan baton also boast top-flight credentials.
Take the top seed, the 18-year-old 32-ranked Carlos Alcaraz, who won the title in Umag, made the quarters at the US Open—and scored his first wins at the other three Majors—plus semis in Vienna, Marbella and Winston Salem. He notched up three top-10 scalps into the bargain.
Three more contenders have ATP titles or final runs in the bag this year, and between them, the eight have also hoovered up 16 Challenger titles.
And all this activity is before the best eight men in the world head to the new home of the ATP Finals in Turin to compete for one of the biggest titles in tennis. That champion will not be crowned until 21 November—but still the season is not done, for the Davis Cup, under the auspices of the ITF, begins a week later and runs until 5 December.
And all that in calendar that began at the very start of January, and against a background of two weeks’ strict quarantine before the Australian swing got under way, plus the postponed Olympics in July, squeezed in following a coronavirus-decimated 2020.
As many have said, tennis demands long and constant commitment in order to reap its many rewards. Djokovic reiterated the point after his victory in Paris:
“Tennis season is the longest season in all sports. It just requires you to right away take the next step, turn the next page, see what’s the next challenge, what’s the next tournament, how can I recover, rejuvenate, and then prepare for what’s coming up, the next challenge.”
There is, too, no shortage of players lined up to play at both the ATP Finals and the Davis Cup, so the time for rest and recuperation before the start of the 2022 season is desperately short. Even so, one of the key warm-up events, the popular Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi, cuts that time to the bone.
Yet the event has consistently drawn the biggest names since its first playing in 2009, as the list of winners proves: Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, and five-time and defending titlist, Rafael Nadal.
This year, the Spaniard’s return is particular newsworthy, for it will be the 20-time Major champion’s first competitive appearance since the beginning of August. Then, he played two matches at the Washington 500 before withdrawing for the rest of the season, and subsequently underwent foot surgery. What is more, he had already been forced to pull out of Wimbledon and the Olympics after the clay swing to rehab a back problem.
“After listening to my body and discussing it with my team, I understand that it is the right decision… The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy, that is to compete at the highest level and keep fighting for those professional and personal goals at the maximum level of competition.”
So with just 29 matches played, and a drop in the ranks to No6, Nadal will undoubtedly by the focus of attention when the eight-player event takes to court between 16 and18 December at the Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
Nadal, though, is not the only long-absent top-five player to have chosen Abu Dhabi for his return. Dominic Thiem has plummeted to No14 in the ranks after playing only 18 matches in 2021, and winning only nine of them. Four times he lost in the opening round of a tournament this season, finally retiring in Mallorca in June to repair a wrist injury.
Organisers have also confirmed that 22-year-old Casper Ruud, who has just qualified for his first ATP Finals after winning five titles in 2021 and reaching two Masters semis and three more Masters quarters, will also play the tournament for the first time, as will Denis Shapovalov.
Two more men are to be named, but the event has drawn two star WTA players for the women’s exhibition event: the British teenager Emma Raducanu, winner of the US Open, will take on the Tokyo Olympics singles champion Belinda Bencic. They will open proceedings on the first evening, Thursday 16 December.
Tickets for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship are available via the website: www.mubadalawtc.com