‘Is this still the first set?’ Abu Dhabi heat tests WTA’s tennis stars on return

New WTA tournament created to help lockdown-hit players gear up for the Australian Open is bringing its own challenges

Deep into her first match of the new season, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova came to the slow realisation that she did not actually have the faintest idea of the score. After holding serve for 6-5 against Ons Jabeur, the Russian tennis player was preparing to serve again when the umpire noted that the game was over. As Pavlyuchenkova moved back towards her chair, she gasped: “Are we still in the first set? I’m completely lost. Oh my God!”

She had fair reason to be confused. Like so many of her colleagues, Pavlyuchenkova has simply not played many matches in recent times. Tuesday marked her return to competition for the first time since her departure from Roland Garros on 2 October. Since she opted not to travel to the US Open in August and the WTA’s autumn swing, which is mostly held in China, was scuppered once the country decided that it would not authorise international sporting events in 2020, she has competed in only four tournaments over the past 13 months.

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