World No.1 Barty joins elite field for Adelaide exhibition


FILE PHOTO: Tennis - Australian Open - Semi Final - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 30, 2020 Australia's Ashleigh Barty during her match against Sofia Kenin of the U.S. REUTERS/Hannah Mckay

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - World number one Ash Barty will join Serena Williams, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic in playing a pre-Australian Open exhibition event in Adelaide at the end of the month, organisers confirmed on Thursday.

U.S. Open winners Dominic Thiem and Naomi Osaka and women's No. 2 Simona Halep will be part of the eight-player field, which also includes 19-year-old Italian Jannik Sinner.

The Adelaide event, dubbed "A Day at the Drive", will launch Australia's summer of tennis and take place at the city's Memorial Drive Tennis Centre on Jan. 29.

Barty, 24, has not played a competitive match since February, opting not to defend her French Open title and skipping the U.S. Open in New York amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I am looking forward to playing my first match for the 2021 season in Adelaide," said the Queenslander, who won a WTA event in Adelaide last year.

"I have fond memories from the Adelaide International last year and it will be great to get back on court here for A Day at the Drive."

The Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam, has been delayed until Feb. 8 this year. The Melbourne Park venue will also host warm-up events from Jan. 31.

Hundreds of other players and their entourages are undergoing mandatory 14-day quarantine in Melbourne.

Tennis Australia Chief Executive Craig Tiley said earlier in the week that the top players were sent to Adelaide to ensure organisers did not exceed the limit set by the authorities for people quarantining in Melbourne.

That decision prompted claims from some of those isolating in Melbourne that the big names were receiving better treatment.

Tiley did not disagree.

"... they're the top players in the world and my general rule is if you're at the top of the game, a grand slam champion, it's just the nature of the business," he said.

"You are going to get a better deal."

(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; editing by Peter Rutherford)

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