- Williams hasn’t played since January
- The American gave birth four months ago and later got married
- Djokovic and Murray have been sidelined by injury since July
- Victoria Azarenka could return at Australian Open amid custody battle
Serena Williams — bidding to make yet more history — leads the way.
Serena’s quest for 24 … as a mum
And that could very well be the case after it was announced that Williams would be making her comeback at a lucrative exhibition in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 30 against French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko.
“I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the birth of my daughter in September,” Williams told the exhibition’s web site.
Despite not playing since January, no one would rule out the now 22nd-ranked Williams winning in Australia if she is in the draw. Williams, after all, could be the greatest tennis player of all time.
Djokovic to dominate once again?
With the reemergence of both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal this year, it can be easy to forget that Novak Djokovic was once the most dominant tennis player on the planet.
When he triumphed at the French Open in June 2016 to complete the job, there were those who — rightfully — thought Djokovic would catch or even surpass Federer for the all-time men’s lead in majors. That now looks unlikely.
Djokovic hit a roadblock, a barrier that not even new coach and tennis legend Andre Agassi could remove in 2017.
Why the slump? Djokovic has referred to “private issues,” his former coach Boris Becker said he wasn’t practicing hard enough and then there were elbow and arm injuries.
The elbow problem cut short his 2017 campaign in July but the 30-year-old is set to step on court this week at the same exhibition event as Williams. His return comes a day earlier than Williams, against either Roberto Bautista Agut or Andrey Rublev.
“It’s been a real roller-coaster ride for me for a year and a half with this issue. I’ve never had surgery in my life, I’ve never had any major injuries that kept me away from the tour for such a long time,” Djokovic told Sport360 in Abu Dhabi Monday.
“I never missed a Grand Slam in my career. It was a big decision, a big call to make. I couldn’t play anymore, there was no choice. It was like, that’s it, you can’t lift your arm.”
He’ll have a new entourage in tow for the new season. Flamboyant Czech Radek Stepanek — who retired from the game this season — will coach Djokovic alongside Agassi. Djokovic also added match analyst Craig O’Shannessy.
Djokovic’s pal to resurface too
Born a week earlier than Djokovic in May 1987, Andy Murray matched his longtime friend by becoming the world No. 1 — replacing the Serb — late last year.
But getting there took its toll: A grueling schedule surely led to the Scot’s longstanding hip injury getting worse.
Although Murray managed to make a grand slam semifinal at the French Open, he visibly struggled with his movement in a defeat to Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
Like Djokovic he shut down his season following the fabled grass-court grand slam before playing in a November exhibition in Glasgow against Federer.
Whereas Djokovic is set to return to the ATP circuit the first week of January in Doha, Murray is scheduled to join Nadal at the Brisbane International in the same week.
Their performances at the Australian Open foreshadowed the tough times — six-time winner Djokovic was upset by wildcard Denis Istomin in the second round while Mischa Zverev stunned five-time runner-up Murray in the fourth round — so the pair will no doubt be hoping for a better start in 2018.
But first, they’d take a clean bill of health.