Djokovic beats Thiem in strong comeback after 6-month absence

Rafael Nadal in action during a practice session on Rod Laver Arena

Rafael Nadal in action during a practice session on Rod Laver Arena

"For me it's about how long the calendar is in terms of mandatory events for the top players".

Take the two men that contested last year's final, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, they are considered by many as the frontrunners once again.

After announcing that he would return to tennis at the Mubadala exhibition championship at the beginning of the year, the Serb withdrew, saying he wasn't ready to compete just yet. "It was hot as hell in there", he started.

Of course, those matches were when he was free from injury and able to play to his true potential but even just a half-strength Djokovic is likely to cause great anxiety for the pair.

"I had all these great five-setters and at the end the epic match against Rafa".

Djokovic will now play in the Tie Break Tens in Melbourne alongside top-ranked Rafael Nadal, France's Stan Wawrinka and Nick Kyrgios of Australia. However, the battle for No 1 will continue over the next two weeks.

The projected women's quarterfinals include Simona Halep vs. Karolina Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza vs. Caroline Garcia, Venus Williams vs. Elina Svitolina and Jelena Ostapoenko vs. Caroline Wozniacki.

"I played better than I thought might happen [on Wednesday] and most importantly I played without pain".

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. New rules reverting Grand Slams to 16 seeds from the current 32 are due to come into force in 2019. But can they do it over seven rounds in the sweltering Melbourne sun?

Craig Tiley, the tournament director, said that the tournament "needed a former champion" for the task and that Sharapova "deserved the opportunity". Since the 2005 Australian Open, only three men outside the Big Four have won a Slam title - Marin Cilic, Juan Martin del Potro and Wawrinaka.

Kyle Edmund, meanwhile, remains stoutly British - and 49th in the world after a decent run lately - but has only a slightly less daunting opener against the 2017 US Open finalist, Kevin Anderson. "My plan for 2018 is similar and my aim is to miss out a few more events but it will depend on results". The final is on Sunday, January 28.

What then can one expect in 2018, as the 12-time Major winner finds himself in the middle of another Fedal narrative?

Federer, who is present at Thursday's draw, will open his title defence against Slovenian world No 51 Aljaz Bedene.

Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova aren't featuring at Melbourne Park, with Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori unable to compete on the men's side.

Ashleigh Barty has lobbed in a difficult section, starting with Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka.

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