Aussie world No.1 Ash Barty has announced her full return to the WTA Tour, starting with the looming Miami Open.

Australian world No.1 Ash Barty has announced her full return to the WTA Tour, starting with the looming Miami Open.

Barty, the defending champion from 2019 after the 2020 event was cancelled, will play in Miami from next week and then continue on the world tour.

Having skipped virtually the entire season last year as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, Barty said that she would “play it by ear” this season, with coronavirus still rife across the globe.

“You weigh up 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 we are going to be in a safe environment. If that changes, I’ll be on the first plane home.”

Barty is yet to get a COVID-19 vaccination but plans to do so ASAP. Returning to the tour should give her a belated return to Roland Garros during May-June, having opted against defending her French Open title last year.

The Australian has faced some controversy after remaining in the world No.1 spot thanks to a rankings freeze. She has remained unflustered, as she will while resuming tournament play.

“I’m looking forward to competing again, first and foremost,” she said. “I’m excited to get back out there and test myself against the best.”

While Barty has boosted the women’s ranks in Miami, a WTA the Premier Mandatory 1000 tournament, the men’s side is looking thin.

Rafael Nadal has become the latest star to abandon the American hard court swing and the men’s Miami Masters 1000 event is set for a severely depleted field.

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

Ongoing coronavirus concerns saw the Indian Wells Masters event postponed, meaning that Miami was left as the lone genuine attraction of the early-season swing. It has not proven enough for some players.

Nadal cited ongoing back concerns as his primary reason for pulling out of Miami, an event that will have minimal fan attendance and prize money slashed by more than 50 per cent. Hampered during the Australian Open, Nadal had already withdrawn from an event in Rotterdam and declined an invitation to play in Dubai.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 play in Acapulco, a decision partly prompted by the absence of his usual appearance fee.

“For the moment I need to fully recover from my back problem and start to get ready for the upcoming clay court season in Europe,” Nadal said of Miami in a statement.

https://twitter.com/RafaelNadal/status/1371857713601335298?s=20

Nadal joins fellow 20-time Grand Slam winner Roger Federer as an absentee from Miami, along with Dominic Thiem, Stan Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet and Nick Kyrgios. Federer cited a “training break” as his rationale, joining Nadal in taking a cautious approach to ongoing fitness concerns.

Kyrgios is yet to announce any plans for playing abroad, having joined Barty in skipping virtually all of last season. He hinted on Tuesday that he might be “back soon”.

There appears limited enthusiasm among players for simply pushing through the global schedule as usual, given ongoing biosecurity concerns and also frozen ATP Tour rankings.

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

“I just need to reset myself a bit to really go fresh into the clay,” he said after a first-round loss to qualifier Lloyd Harris in Dubai.

“Obviously right now I’m in a tough period & just it wouldn’t be the right thing to go to Miami. Right now I’m not in the greatest shape in any way.”

Canadian star Denis Shapovalov gave an insight into his new mindset while playing Dubai, saying that he intended to be far less active this season. He is one of the few absentees this far in the Monte Carlo acceptances, joining Federer and Milos Raonic.

https://twitter.com/ReemAbulleil/status/1371801477191204864?s=20

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