Saturday, December 9, 2023

Tennis news | Ashleigh Barty WTA Tour returns to Miami Open, men’s event decimated

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Australian world No.1 Ash Barty announced their full return to the WTA Tour, starting with the impending Miami Open.

Barty, the reigning champion of 2019 after the cancellation of the 2020 event, will play in Miami starting next week and then continue his world tour.

After skipping most of the season last year as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Barty said she would “play by ear” this season, with the coronavirus still rampant around the world.

“You weigh the risk for your reward and what you’re willing to accept,” Barty told Wally Lewis for Nine News Queensland.

“I feel like now we are in a comfortable position knowing that the tour is doing the right things and that we are going to be in a safe environment. If that changes, I will be on the first plane to return.”

Barty has not yet been vaccinated against COVID-19 but plans to do so as soon as possible. Returning to tour should give him a late return to Roland Garros in May-June, having chosen not to defend his title at Roland Garros last year.

The Australian faced controversy after remaining in first place in the world thanks to a ranking freeze. She remained unperturbed, as she will when the tournament resumes.

“I can’t wait to compete again, first and foremost,” she said. “I am delighted to come back and test myself against the best.”

As Barty bolstered the women’s ranks at Miami, a WTA the Premier Mandatory 1000 tournament, the men’s squad looks slim.

Rafael Nadal has become the latest star to give up American hard court swing and the Miami Masters 1000 men’s event is about to be sold out.

As the ATP Tour attempts to weather the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many players are taking a cautious approach to the season.

Persistent coronavirus concerns saw the Indian Wells Masters event postponed, meaning Miami remained the only real draw in the early season swing. It hasn’t proven enough for some players.

Nadal cited persistent back problems as his main reason for pulling out of Miami, an event that will have minimal fan participation and prices reduced by more than 50%. Embarrassed at the Australian Open, Nadal had already withdrawn from an event in Rotterdam and declined an invitation to play in Dubai. He also announced that he would not be playing Acapulco, a decision partly motivated by the lack of his usual appearance fees.

“Right now I need to fully recover from my back problem and start preparing for the next clay court season in Europe,” Nadal said of Miami in a statement.

Nadal joins fellow 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer as absent from Miami, alongside Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios. Federer cited a “workout break” as his justification, joining Nadal in taking a cautious approach to ongoing fitness issues.

Kyrgios has yet to announce plans to play abroad, having joined Barty in jumping most of last season. He hinted on Tuesday that he could be “back soon”.

Enthusiasm appears to be limited among players to simply move the world calendar forward as usual, given ongoing biosecurity issues and the ATP Tour rankings frozen.

Thiem ditched plans to play in Miami over a mix of health and fitness concerns; things that barely troubled him last year, when he was very active despite the pandemic. He won’t play again until the Monte Carlo Masters in mid-April.

“I just need to reset myself a bit to really get back to clay,” he said after a first round loss to qualifier Lloyd Harris in Dubai.

“Obviously right now I’m having a hard time and it wouldn’t be the right thing to go to Miami. Right now I’m by no means in the best shape.”

Canadian star Denis Shapovalov gave a glimpse of his new state of mind playing in Dubai, saying he intended to be much less active this season. He is one of the few absent to date in Monte Carlo acceptances, joining Federer and Milos Raonic.

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