MYBOYSAY REPORTS FROM ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates.

Serena Williams will make a surprise return to tennis at the Mubadala exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, next Saturday, as she prepares for her Australian Open title defense in January.

Serena Williams’s decision to play an exhibition match next weekend all but confirmed that she would compete at the Australian Open next month. She won the 2017 Australian Open in the early stages of her pregnancy, and she has not competed since then.

Williams, 36, formerly ranked No. 1 in the world, has not played since clinching a 23rd Grand Slam singles title 11 months ago. She was pregnant during that tournament and took time off to give birth to Alexis Olympia in September.

Williams will return with a match against the French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. They will be the first women to compete in the Mubadala tournament, previously a male-only event.

She said, “I am delighted to be returning to the court in Abu Dhabi for the first time since the birth of my daughter in September. The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has long marked the beginning of the men’s global tennis season and I am excited and honoured to be making my comeback as part of the first women to participate in the event. I look forward to seeing the fans in Abu Dhabi at the 10th Edition of the Championship very soon.”

“The Mubadala World Tennis Championship has long marked the beginning of the men’s global tennis season, and I am excited and honored to be making my comeback as part of the first women to participate in the event.”

Williams has a chance to equal Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles, although she will have to make do with a low seeding in Australia after slipping to 22nd in the rankings.

Williams’s return raises the prospect of a renewal of her lopsided rivalry with Maria Sharapova of Russia, who had her own comeback this year from a doping ban.

Williams claimed her Open-era record 23rd major title by beating her older sister Venus 6-4, 6-4 in this year’s Australian Open final, a feat made all the more remarkable because she was two months pregnant.

Serena Jameka Williams (born September 26, 1981) is an American professional tennis player. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has ranked her world No. 1 in singles on eight separate occasions over the last 15 years from 2002 to 2017. She became the world No. 1 for the first time on July 8, 2002. On the sixth occasion, she held the ranking for 186 consecutive weeks, tying the record set by Steffi Graf for the most consecutive weeks as world No. 1 by a female tennis player. In total, she has been world No. 1 for 319 weeks, which ranks her third in the Open Era among female tennis players behind Graf and Martina Navratilova. Many commentators, players and sports writers regard her as the greatest female tennis player of all time.  On April 19, 2017, she announced a hiatus from tennis until 2018 because of her pregnancy.

Williams holds the most Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles, and mixed doubles combined amongst active players. Her record of 39 Grand Slam titles puts her third on the all-time list and second in the Open Era: 23 in singles, 14 in women’s doubles, and 2 in mixed doubles. She is the most recent female player to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously (2002–03 and 2014–15) and the third player to achieve this record twice after Rod Laver and Steffi Graf. She is also, together with her sister Venus, the most recent player to have held all four Grand Slam women’s doubles titles simultaneously (2009–10).

Her total of 23 Grand Slam singles titles marks the record for the most Grand Slam wins by a tennis player in the Open Era, and is second on the all-time list behind Margaret Court (24).  She is the only tennis player in history (man or woman) to have won singles titles at least six times in three of the four Grand Slam tournaments, and the only player ever to have won two of the four Grand Slams seven times each (seven Wimbledon titles and seven Australian Open titles). She is also the only tennis player to have won 10 Grand Slam singles titles in two separate decades. She has won an all-time record of 13 Grand Slam singles titles on hard court. Williams holds the Open Era record for most titles won at the Australian Open (7) and shares the Open Era record for most titles won at the US Open with Chris Evert (6). She also holds the all-time record for the most women’s singles matches won at the Grand Slams with 316 matches.

She has won 14 Grand Slam doubles titles, all with her sister Venus, and the pair are unbeaten in Grand Slam doubles finals.  As a team, she and Venus have the third most women’s doubles grand slam titles, behind the 18 titles of Natasha Zvereva (14 with Gigi Fernández) and the record 20 titles won by Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver. Williams is also a five-time winner of the WTA Tour Championships in the singles division.  Serena has also won four Olympic gold medals, one in women’s singles and three in women’s doubles—an all-time record shared with her sister, Venus.  The arrival of the Williams sisters has been credited with ushering in a new era of power and athleticism on the women’s professional tennis tour. Earning almost $29 million in prize money and endorsements, Williams was the highest paid female athlete in 2016.  She repeated this feat in 2017 when she was the only woman on Forbes‘ list of the 100 highest paid athletes with $27 million in prize money and endorsements. She has won the Laureus Sportswoman of the Year award three times (2003, 2010, 2016), and in December 2015, she was named Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated magazine.

Ostapenko, 20, broke through with a stunning French Open title, and she will take on Serena Williams for the first time.

It also provides a lift to the Australian Open, after the two-time champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus pulled out of the warm-up event in Auckland, New Zealand, because of a child custody battle that has prevented her from playing since Wimbledon in July.

The six-strong men’s field in Abu Dhabi includes Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who will also be making his comeback.

Djokovic, a 12-time Grand Slam champion, has not played competitively since his quarterfinal loss in July to Tomas Berdych at Wimbledon because of an elbow injury.