AO champ Kenin ready as 2021 season begins

  • Matt Trollope

Three tournaments will comprise week one of the 2021 tennis season, with the women headed to Abu Dhabi for a new 500-level event while the men will contest ATP 250 tournaments in Delray Beach and Antalya.

The three hard-court events will be the first competitive preparation for Australian Open, set to take place at Melbourne Park on 8-21 February.

We examine the players to watch, key match-ups and what might unfold as professional tennis resumes this week. 

WTA Abu Dhabi (500)

Defending AO champion Sofia Kenin headlines the 64-player field as the No.1 seed at a tournament featuring four of the world’s top 10 and 11 of the top 25. 

The American opens against a qualifier and could face the women she beat in the AO 2020 final, Garbine Muguruza, in the quarterfinals. Muguruza drew Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic in the first round.

DRAW: WTA Abu Dhabi

Kenin-Muguruza is one of four exciting projected quarterfinal match-ups, the others being Aryna Sabalenka v Elena Rybakina, Karolina Pliskova v Marketa Vondrousova, and Elina Svitolina v Elise Mertens.

However, many roadblocks exist in the stacked draw that could prevent these from eventuating. 

In the third round Muguruza could face ninth seed Maria Sakkari, who in turn faces the prospect of a second-round meeting with Coco Gauff. 

AO 2020 quarterfinalist Ons Jabeur, the 15th seed, could lie in wait for Sabalenka in the last 16, while former French Open finalist Vondrousova is projected to meet 2020 US Open semifinalist Jennifer Brady at the same stage.

While Muguruza v Mladenovic is the pick of the first-round matches, the draw also offers interesting opening-round battles between Jabeur and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Wang Qiang and Daria Kasatkina, and Vera Zvonareva and Fiona Ferro. 

ATP Delray Beach (250)

Highest-ranked entrant Milos Raonic, defending champion Reilly Opelka and the in-form Vasek Pospisil all withdrew ahead of the tournament, with the draw now headed by top seed Cristian Garin. 

Garin is one of four top-50 players set to contest the tournament in Florida, which has moved from its traditional February slot on the ATP calendar.

Second seed John Isner, No.3 seed Adrian Mannarino and fourth seed Hubert Hurkacz have all received first-round byes.

DRAW: ATP Delray Beach

The 28-player draw already contains 10 Americans – a number which could be boosted if local players come through qualifying – including seeds Tommy Paul (No.5), Sam Querrey (No.6) and Frances Tiafoe (No.8).

Another is youngster Sebastian Korda, who reached the fourth round at Roland Garros as a qualifier and who could meet Paul in round two. 

ATP Antalya (250)

World No.10 Matteo Berrettini, the 2019 US Open semifinalist, leads the way at this Turkish event, typically staged on grass in June in the lead-up to Wimbledon.

He is joined in the field by fellow top-20 players David Goffin and Fabio Fognini, the second and third seeds respectively. 

Goffin faces Pierre Hugues-Herbert in the pick of the first-round matches.

DRAW: ATP Antalya

Australian Alex de Minaur, the fourth seed, begins against Tunisia’s Malek Jaziri while ATP young guns Miomir Kecmanovic (the No.7 seed) and Emil Ruusuvuori of Finland could clash in round two.

Entertaining eighth seed Alexander Bublik is positioned for a quarterfinal meeting against Berrettini, who opens his campaign against Ergi Kirkin – one of three Turkish wildcards in the draw.