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World Tennis League preview: Hawks aiming to double up

The second edition of the World Tennis League gets underway at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Thursday and there are a host of star names in action.

The tournament features four teams of four and it takes place for four days from December 21st until December 24th.

The event takes place on a hard court and the four teams involved - the Eagles, the Falcons, the Hawks and the Kites - will compete in a round-robin format that consist of one men's singles match, one women's singles match and a mixed-doubles match.

Following the round-robin phase, the top two will face off in the final in which the Hawks will be hoping they can defend their crown.

Unlike in the inaugural competition last year, Novak Djokovic is not in action, but that shouldn’t take away from the quality of the event with a number of heavy hitters still making the trip to the United Arab Emirates.

Hawks have plenty in their favour

Last season the Hawks - then represented by Alexander Zverev, Elena Rybakina, Dominic Thiem and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova - claimed the title with a thrilling victory over the Kites in the final.

The Hawks have a different line-up for their title defence but it still has an exceptionally strong look to it with women’s world number one Swiatek being the headline act.

Swiatek should be key for the Hawks, but former world number four Caroline Garcia is another excellent female representative, while they also boast two top-ten male performers in Hubert Hurkacz and Casper Ruud.

Swiatek is a four-time Grand Slam champion, while Ruud is a three-time Grand Slam finalist, which goes some way to highlighting the quality in store.

Their biggest test may come from the Eagles, who have a strong Russian representation, with men’s world number three Daniil Medvedev and men’s world number five Andrey Rublev involved.

Women’s world number 33 Sofia Kenin, who is Russian-born despite representing the United States, and teenage star Mirra Andreeva help finish their team.

That blend of youth and experience should make them a threat and they are sure to be a cohesive unit with Medvedev and Rublev good friends on the ATP Tour.

Falcons could be the weak link again

The Falcons finished bottom of the standings last season, losing all three of their matches, and it would be no surprise to see a similar tale of events.

That disappointing run was despite having Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov, Aryna Sabalenka and Paula Badosa in their team.

That is a quartet that boast far superior quality and success to their four players that will be representing them this year.

This time around, the Falcons have to call upon the services of Taylor Fritz, Sumit Nagal, Rybakina and Leylah Fernandez.

Men’s world number ten Fritz and women’s world number four Rybakina are excellent options to have, but world number 138 Nagal is the only male player ranked outside the top 14 involved in the competition.

Meanwhile, world number 35 Fernandez is also the third lowest-ranked female playing in the event and she has struggled for consistency ever since finishing runner-up to Emma Raducanu at the 2021 US Open.

The fourth and final team involved, the Kites, will be hoping they can go one better than when finishing runner-up last year.

Kites topped the round-robin knockout phase by winning all three group games, with their 2022 team consisting of Felix Auger-Aliassime, Holger Rune, Swiatek and Sania Mirza.

If anything, the Kites could be even stronger this season with world number six Stefanos Tsitsipas and world number 14 Dimitrov their two male representatives.

World number two Sabalenka, who claimed her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open last season, and Badosa, a former Grand Slam quarter-finalist, are their female players.

So, they could go well but the Eagles and, in particular the Hawks, may boast stronger title prospects.

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