Rafael Nadal gearing up for Australian Open

Rafael Nadal gearing up for Australian Open

Do I enjoy it more now?

And with rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal on their way back from injury, and Briton Andy Murray absent, Federer remains the man to beat.

While Melbourne Park maestro Djokovic will bid for a record seventh Australian Open title, those fans hoping for a shake-up of the establishment may look to 20-year-old Alexander Zverev after his stellar 2017.

The dawning of a new tennis season has in past years triggered lots of confident predictions - whether it be the continued domination of Serena Williams or, in most seasons, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. The bookies fancy his chances and so does everyone else who has surveyed the draw. Halep, who has had back-to-back first-round exits on her last two trips to Melbourne Park, opens on day two against Australian wild-card entry Destanee Aiava.

Women's top seed Simona Halep will take on 17-year-old Australian wildcard Destinee Aiava in the first round, but will likely have to beat Eugenie Bouchard and Petra Kvitova just to make the round of 16.

".I'm excited. I think Australian tennis is in pretty good hands at the moment".

Stephens agrees the Australian Open field is still extremely tough, even with Serena Williams, the defending champion and 23-time major victor, skipping the tournament as she continues her recovery from a complicated childbirth in September.

Former number one Wozniacki is riding high in the rankings again after reaching eight finals in 2017, with victories in Tokyo in September and at the season-ending Tour Championship. "Past year was an fantastic final and it's great to be back", he said.

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If Federer wins this year's tournament, he will be tied for the most Australian titles with Djokovic and Roy Emerson, who both have won six Australian Open titles.

"This year I hope to win the first few rounds and get rolling hopefully, whereas last year I was just hoping to win (a match). But I feel good", Nadal told the reporters ahead of the tournament.

A magical 20th slam might seem a formality for a player who did it all in last year's tournament with the shortest of run-ups, but on closer inspection, Federer's path through the draw is far from straightforward.

Federer is returning to where he lit the fuse on his late-life tennis renaissance this time previous year, beating Tomas Berdych, Nishikori, Mischa Zverev and Wawrinka before downing great rival Nadal in a five-set final classic.

• Venus Williams is a threat at 37 after finishing runnerup to her sister past year.

"I get to see familiar faces again at all these events because I've made so many friends over the course of my career".

"I feel my biggest expectation is from myself", Venus Williams said, dismissing any notion that age or expectations will weigh heavily on her. A Raonic-Del Potro-Djokovic/Zverev-Nadal run might be even steeper than the one he overcame past year, but Federer too is even more in his zone than he was 12 months ago. I don't know what's going to happen. I can't believe it's been a year, but it's okay. "I think personally I had a lot of things going on".

"Thinking outwardly and looking into the team, I'd say that's a very positive sign that Andre is coming to Australia to be with Novak".

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