The Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) has a new name on the winner’s trophy as world number 14 Kevin Anderson defeated Spain’s world number 20 Roberto Bautista Agut in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) in 1 hour and 39 minutes at the International Tennis Center at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi.
The Championship trophy was handed over to Anderson by Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al Tahnoon Al Nahyan, Vice Chairman of Abu Dhabi Airports. Also present were Homaid Al Shimmari, Deputy CEO, Mubadala Investment Company and John Lickrish, Chief Executive Officer, Flash Entertainment organisers of the MWTC.
Before the final, however, fans were treated to a special exhibition match as 23-time Grand Slam Champion, Serena Williams made her first public on court appearance since becoming a mother just under four months ago.
Williams’ opponent in her first competitive match, and the first women’s match ever played at MWTC, was world number seven, Jelena Ostapenko. The 20-year-old Latvian has had a breakthrough season, winning the French Open after defeating current world number one Simona Halep in the final. But Ostapenko was too strong for Williams as she went down 6-2, 3-6, (10-5).
In the Championship match, the big-serving Anderson, who was in red hot form throughout the three days, continued his powering run as he broke Bautista Agut in the very first service game before going on to win the set in just 37 minutes.
The second set proved to be a far tighter affair as the Spaniard found his range. He broke Anderson in the second game, but the 6’8” South African used his serve to good effect as he broke right back. The contest then went on serve and in the tie-break, it was an absolute masterclass from Anderson as he took charge with aggressive play from the baseline to wrap up the set and match 7-6 (7-0).
After receiving his Championship trophy, which is officially sponsored by Lasvit, Anderson said, “It is obviously nice to get a win. It’s been three very good matches for me. In terms of my preparation I could not ask for more out of these matches. They were very close matches and I had to compete. I was able to implement a lot of the things we were working on during the off-season but overall I am very, very pleased with these last few days.”
Looking ahead to the new season, he said, “I’ve set big goals for next year. The year is just getting started, so there is a lot of tennis to be played. I’m really looking forward to the next few weeks and the new season.”
In the first-ever Women’s match at the Championship, Jelena Ostapenko, playing against her ‘idol’, as she acknowledged her in the post-match press conference, showed signs of nervousness as she lost the first service game before recovering to take a 3-1 lead. Playing in front of a very excited crowd, Williams initially showed signs of rustiness and her opponent took full advantage to win the first set 6-2.
In the second set, Williams finally came into her own finding her rhythm and racing away to a 3-0 lead. Two further breaks in serves saw the 36-year-old American claim the second set 6-3. In the super set, a series of unforced errors from Williams saw the Latvian take a 6-1 lead before the American staged a brief fight back to bring the score to 4-8. However, Ostapenko had just enough in the tank to claim the match 6-2, 3-6, (10-5).
Williams said, “It felt good to be back out there. I miss playing, I missed the competition, the crowd and the atmosphere. I’m taking it one day at a time. In the beginning, it was a little tough. But as the match moved on I was less afraid. The more I played, the more confident I felt. I think this was a wonderful opportunity for me to kind of test and see where I am not only physically but also mentally. I think it was perfect.”
She added, “For me it was all about how I feel physically, how I am physically recovering. I’m just really proud to be playing again and competing. I’ve just had a few tough months and I’m really excited to be out here.”
After her win Ostapenko said, “It was great as she was my idol growing up. It’s hard for her to come back after the baby but I am honoured to be playing in her first match back. Both of us had some good rallies and were also serving and returning well. This experience has been great for me.”
Earlier in the day, Austrian world number 5 Dominic Thiem and Spain’s world number 10 Pablo Carreño Busta played out an exhibition match as both players prepare for the Australian Open.
Thiem, who was beaten by Anderson in yesterday’s semi-final, went on to win 6-3, 6-4 with the help of 11 aces in just over an hour. The world number five broke Carreño Busta’s serve in each of the two sets to register a comfortable victory. Carreño Busta has now lost 11 of his last 12 matches after losing to Kevin Anderson in the opening round of the MWTC and Russian Andrey Rublev for the fifth and sixth place play off.
After his match, Thiem said, “I’m very pleased with the way I served and it was the perfect preparation for me (ahead of the Australian Open). I’m quite satisfied with the way I played over these two days.”
Thousands of fans witnessed three-action packed days of tennis from some of the best players in the world. Due to its success, the organisers revealed during the trophy ceremony that the tournament will return in 2018, for the 11th consecutive year, and will be played between December 27-29.
The three-day MWTC, which is now well established as an annual season-opener, attracted thousands of fans who witnessed high-quality tennis action as the players battled it out for the winner takes all prize of US $250,000.