Known as the ‘Happy Slam’, this year’s Australian Open is also the comeback slam for a number of big names.
The tournament has come too early for Serena Williams, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori, but the men’s tournament will have no shortage of returning stars.
Here, Press Association Sport looks at tennis’ walking wounded.
Rafael Nadal The world number one stayed injury free until the final stages of his brilliant 2017 campaign, when familiar knee problems returned. After pulling out of a tournament in Basel, Nadal played in the Paris Masters and ATP Finals but withdrew during both, playing just one match in London. Alarm bells rung when he then pulled out of his scheduled opening two tournaments of 2018 in Abu Dhabi and Brisbane but the signs are positive that the Spaniard should be fully fit for the Australian Open. Nadal came agonisingly close to winning a second title in Melbourne last year, losing in five sets to Roger Federer in the final.
Novak Djokovic Djokovic lost only once at the Australian Open between 2011 and last year, when he suffered a shock second-round defeat to Denis Istomin. It was the latest stumble for the former world number one but his 2017 took a more serious downward turn in the summer when, after pulling out during his Wimbledon quarter-final against Tomas Berdych, he announced he would be taking the rest of the season off to rehabilitate an ongoing elbow problem. The signs were less than positive when he suffered more pain in the elbow and withdrew from his scheduled opening tournament of 2018 in Abu Dhabi. But there has been more optimism since and how Djokovic, now ranked 14th, performs in Melbourne will be one of the most fascinating aspects of the tournament.
Stan Wawrinka Another player who has not competed in a match since Wimbledon. Wawrinka reached his fifth grand slam final at the French Open but struggled with a knee problem in a first-round loss to Daniil Medvedev at SW19 and then announced he would be going under the knife. The 32-year-old Swiss, who won his first slam title in Melbourne four years ago, did not make as swift progress as he would have liked with his rehabilitation and goes into the Australian Open without having played in a warm-up event. But he has been remarkably consistent at the biggest tournaments in recent years and will hope to play himself into form.
Milos Raonic After ending 2016 ranked third and with a first grand slam title a very realistic prospect, 2017 was pretty much a write-off for the big-serving Canadian. He could not find any momentum and, after missing the US Open with a wrist problem, was forced to cut his season short when he injured his calf in his first tournament back. Now ranked 23rd, Raonic was at least able to play his scheduled warm-up tournament in Brisbane but lost his opening match to Australian teenager Alex De Minaur. At 27, Raonic could still have plenty of time left to fulfil his potential, if his body allows.
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