The Australian Open: Contenders v pretenders to win the tournament

Toni Nadal 'It Will Be Difficult for Rafa to Replicate His Success in 2018'

Toni Nadal 'It Will Be Difficult for Rafa to Replicate His Success in 2018' 8 Jan 2018  View 1968 by Prakash

Novak Djokovic returned to competitive tennis with a bang on Wednesday, bringing a six-month spell on the sidelines to an end with a thumping 6-1, 6-4 win over world No. 5 Dominic Thiem at the Kooyong Classic exhibition tournament.

Though Djokovic said that his preparation for the season-opening Grand Slam tournament was not ideal, he believes it would be enough if he plays one more tournament ahead of heading into the Melbourne Park.

Giorgi, belying her ranking of 100th in the world, beat US Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round and then ousted twice Wimbledon and former Sydney champion Petra Kvitova. However, the real challenge could be Marin Cilic in the quarterfinal round (again, presuming chalk).

Reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, seeded third, rounds out the top half of the draw and could face a daunting test in the third round from either 2016 champion Angelique Kerber or 2008 champion Maria Sharapova.

Williams's sister Venus, who lost to her sibling in the final last year, is seeded fourth and the 37-year-old was handed a tricky first encounter against Swiss former world number seven Belinda Bencic, who is 17 years her junior.

Rafael Nadal heads defending champion Roger Federer at the top of the men's seedings, with Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki seeded one and two in the women's competition.

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Federer says his three-year-old sons Leo and Lenny "seem very interested" in tennis and that his eight-year-old daughters Myla Rose and Charlene Riva, also identical twins, think his friends in the locker-room like countryman Stan Wawrinka are all part of the family.

The first Grand Slam of the year is just around the corner - but who can threaten the usual suspects in the Australian Open men's singles? "Hopefully if I can reach the last few rounds, I will feel more comfortable".

Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, seeded 14th for this year's tournament, has a couple of potential early obstacles with American Donald Young and potentially mercurial Frenchman Gael Monfils in the second round. Federer could face seventh-seeded David Goffin or 12th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro in the quarter-finals.

It was a welcome sight for Australian Open organisers and fans following the withdrawals of five-time runner-up Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori as well as 23-time slam victor Serena Williams on the women's side, but Djokovic insisted he is still not 100 per cent fit with the tournament set to get underway on Monday.

The prospect of Federer reaching 20 Grand Slam titles appeared to be a distant dream at the start of 2017, but now he's just one away from that unprecedented total. Fitness, training and dieting methods have become extremely scientific making it possible for players to last till the age of 35 years and more. A handy consultant last season, four-time champion Andre Agassi is said to be now planning a late dash Down Under to re-join the team after a snowboarding mishap back home.

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