It feels good to see a draw again. In a moment of chaos, the brackets bring a small sense of order and logic to our spectating lives.
On Tuesday, the first three draws of the new year popped up: One for the women’s event in Abu Dhabi, one for the men’s event in Delray Beach, and another for the men’s event in Antalya, Turkey. None of these are the tournaments that traditionally kick off a new season, but they’re the tournaments we have. In 2021, we have to enjoy every event as it happens, because who knows what’s going to happen, or not happen next. Here’s a look ahead at week one.
Abu Dhabi Women’s Tennis Open (WTA)
Abu Dhabi, UAE
$565,530; WTA 500
The first thing a close observer of the information above will notice is the number 500. Starting this year, the WTA has adopted the ATP’s tournament-categorization system: Instead of Internationals, Premiers, and Premier Mandatories, the women will have 250s, 500s, and 1000s. This may or may not be a sign of progress and unity between the tours, but it does simplify matters.
As a 500, Abu Dhabi is a mid-level event, but it has a pretty high-level draw. Sofia Kenin is the top seed, followed by Elina Svitolina, Karolina Pliskova, Aryna Sabalenka, and Garbiñe Muguruza. All are players with Grand Slam champion potential in 2021. I’ll be especially interested to see how Kenin and Muguruza, last year’s Australian Open finalists, look as they get ready to head back to Melbourne.
Player of Interest: Jen Brady. The American had a breakout year at the relatively advanced age of 25 in 2020. Is a spot in the Top 10 next, or will it be tough for her to keep her momentum going? She’ll start against Tamara Zidansek this week.
First-round matches to watch: Coco Gauff vs. Ulrikke Eikeri; Muguruza vs. Kiki Mladenovic; Ons Jabeur vs. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova; Marketa Vondrousova vs. Su-Wei Hsieh; Svitolina vs. Jessica Pegula; Fiona Ferro vs. Vera Zvonareva
Delray Beach Open (ATP)
Delray Beach, Fla.
$418,195; ATP 250
If you’re looking for places to hold a sporting event, Florida is friendly territory. Despite being hit hard by the coronavirus, the state has few restrictions on gatherings. Hence: Delray has been moved up a month and will open the ATP season.
Even at its normal time, Delray is an American-heavy event, and that’s truer than ever in 2021. Ten of the tournament’s 28 players are from the States. Yet three of the top four seeds are non-Americans: Cristian Garin of Chile is the first, Adrian Mannarino of France is third, and Hubert Hurkacz of Poland is fourth.
Player of Interest: Tommy Paul. The latest bloomer of the current generation of U.S. men might be the best and most entertaining ball-striker of all of them. The 23-year-old started to make good on his potential in 2020. He’ll start against Korea’s Ji Sung Nam.
Antalya Open (ATP)
$420,000; ATP 250
What can we expect from Matteo Berrettini in 2021? The 2019 US Open semifinalist treaded water for much of last year and failed to reach the quarters at a major; he may have saved his best tennis for Patrick Mouratoglou’s UTS event in June-July. The Italian will try to get back on track in Antalya, where he’s the top seed, followed by David Goffin, Fabio Fognini, and Alex de Minaur.