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Federer, Williams, start 2018 with a bang

Roger Federer. ATP (file photo)
By Kristoffer Ed Bellen

MANILA--Last year’s Australian Open champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams finally returned inside the tennis court to put off an early statement heading into the new tennis season after both superstars exploded in their 2018 debuts while some notable stars put on hold their much awaited comebacks due to different lingering injuries.

Federer teamed up with Belinda Bencic for the second straight year in the Hopman Cup, at the Perth Arena in Perth, Australia, to represent Switzerland in the mixed-doubles tournament while first-time mother Williams was seen for the first time holding a racket since winning the Australian Open for her record 23 Grand Slam titles before taking a leave for the rest of the year to give birth to baby Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Nineteen-time Grand Slam titlist Federer swept Russian Karen Khachanov, 6-3, 7-6, in front of a record 13,943 fans, while Bencic currently leads 1-0 over Anastasia Pavylyuchenkova as they both attempt to roll to their second straight win after ousting Japan’s Yuichi Sumaguita and Naomi Osaka in the tournament’s Day 1.

Federer and Bencic failed to advance at the championship match last year after bowing down against eventual champions Richard Gasquet and Kristina Mladenovic of France, 1-2, and placing second in the group stage. France, however, did not participate this year.

Meanwhile, Williams made her first public appearance on a match court since January last year by taking on reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the first ever women’s exhibition match at the Mubadala World Tennis Championships, in Abu Dhabi on Saturday where the latter prevailed in three sets, 6-2, 3-6, (10-5).

“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,” said the 36-year-old American after the game.

Although the former world number 1 took an 11-month break to prepare for his birth delivery last September, Williams showed no signs of rust despite the lost but was obviously more reserved when discussing about her plans for her title defense in Jan. 15 at Melbourne.

“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,” Williams said.

“I don’t know if I’m totally ready yet or not. 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,” she added.

Over at the men’s side, South African Kevin Anderson engraved his name to the list of the Abu Dhabi winners that includes Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal after defeating Spanish Roberto Bautista Agut in two straight sets, 6-4, 7-6, to hoist the trophy of the 10th edition of the tournament.

The former US Open finalist became the only fourth player to win the tournament after winning all of his three matches in straight sets including two Top 10 wins against world’s number five Dominic Thiem and number 10 Pablo Carreno Busta.

Djokovic also squandered his semifinal bye in the tournament after revealing that he is not yet fully recovered from his right elbow injury which caused him a quarterfinal loss in Wimbledon, leaving Murray to fill up his spot.

Murray, who was also sidelined in July, has been inactive due to a hip injury and is obviously taking extended healing as seen from his sluggish start in a 2-6 one-set loss against Bautista Agut who came as an early replacement for his countryman Nadal after the world number 1 withdrew from the tournament as well as at the Brisbane event this week due to a knee injury that also forced him to retire at the Nitto ATP Finals in London last November.

Nonetheless, Nadal is expected to come back next week, January 10, at the Tie Break Tens to warm up five days before the Australian Open kicks off in January 15-28. He will take on Djokovic, three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka, and Australian natives Nick Kyrgios and Lleyton Hewitt while three more players are yet to be announced.

In Hua Hin, 2017 year-end number 1 Simona Halep asserted her mastery at the World Thailand Tennis Championships as she did not drop a single set against co-Top 10 players Johanna Konta and Karolina Pliskova.

Halep plays double duty in Shenzhen with fellow Romanian Irina-Carmelia Begu in doubles while also taking action in the singles event.

Earlier, Halep and Begu beat Irina Bara and Mihaela Buzarnescu in an all-Romanian quarterfinal, 4-6, 6-4, 13-11, while world number 1 Halep began her campaign for a second straight title in China with a lopsided 6-4, 6-1 victory over American Nicole Gibbs.

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