Returning Novak Djokovic still managing elbow injury

Roger Federer

The world No. 1 and last year's runner-up Rafael Nadal has a lingering injury scare and a seemingly tough draw.

Wins over Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in 2017 were evidence of his talent, but at 22, the Australian - victor of last week's Brisbane International - recognises that it is "time to mature". "For me, the Australian Open always, if you are not enough motivated, 100 per cent motivated to play this tournament, probably you don't love this sport", Nadal said.

With Serena Williams still absent, the women's draw is impossible to call.

"Whenever I get asked that question, it always comes across in an nearly negative way instead of acknowledging how many great players we have", said the British number one.

"But I'm feeling better".

Djokovic will wear a sleeve on his right arm to forestall any reoccurrence of the elbow injury that has plagued him since Wimbledon 2017.

Yet, Federer is the only player in the top-10 that has a real shot at toppling Nadal. These are Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem.

Nadal's first hit out of the 2018 Australian Open will take place on Monday, when he faces Victor Estrella Burgos of the Dominican Republic, who now ranks 81 in the world.

In Melbourne, Nadal is at his first major tournament in years without his uncle Toni, who coached him from childhood until after his US Open win last year.

The world No 1 came agonisingly close to winning a second title in Melbourne past year, losing in five thrilling sets to Roger Federer in the final.

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Like 22-year-old Australian Nick Kyrgios, fourth seed Zverev possesses a majestic game capable of toppling the very best but also has a propensity to crumble on the biggest stages.

In the last two years at Grand Slams, whenever Serena Williams has been absent, an unknown has thrown their hats in the ring.

"There's a lot of great players", she said.

Like Federer, Nadal has pared back his playing schedule to prolong his career but the strain still showed when he pulled out of the ATP Tour Finals in November with a knee problem after losing his opening match.

"It's the start of a new season, an exciting one".

No one should write off Maria Sharapova, as she possesses a quiet confidence that could see her go all the way despite all the aggression directed towards her by other players because of her dope ban.

It might be argued that 36-year-old fathers of four have no business winning grand slam titles but try telling that to Roger Federer as the evergreen Swiss bids to claim a record-equalling sixth Australian Open crown in two weeks' time.

A US Open semifinals clash with Nadal would have given Federer the opportunity to take the no.1 spot. "I hope to be healthy and competitive, and most important thing, I hope to enjoy tennis one more year", added the Spaniard.

Then there is Serena's elder sister, Venus, who played a magnificent 2017.

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