MELBOURNE - Novak Djokovic renews his affinity with the Australian Open next week as Roger Federer chases more elusive Grand Slam glory and Rafael Nadal battles wear and tear heading into the new season.
The world number one from Serbia has won four of his seven major titles in Melbourne and relishes the fast hardcourt, making him the player to beat in the year's opening Grand Slam.
Djokovic was upset by eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in last year's quarter-finals, ending his 25-match winning streak at Melbourne Park, but he went on to land Wimbledon and make the semi-finals at the US Open.
It looms as business as usual for him next week, with the Serb nominating long-standing rivals Nadal and Federer as his major threats.
"Rafa didn't play many matches in the last four or five months. He had similar issues with injuries a few years back, and then he came back in 2013 and played maybe the year of his life," Djokovic said.
"Roger also didn't experience a season up to his standards (in 2013), but then we were fighting up to the last couple of matches in London for the number one spot of the world (last year)." Federer, who brought up his 1,000th victory at tour level in winning the Brisbane International last weekend, is chasing his 18th Grand Slam title, which has eluded him since his last win at Wimbledon in 2012.
The Swiss great shows no signs of letting up as he approaches his 34th birthday later this year, but time is not on his side against a younger generation of stars.
"Yeah, I do believe that (can win a fourth Australian Open)," Federer said.
"Then again, it's just talk. At the end of the day, I've got to do the running, I've got to do the clutch play when it matters the most." Whatever happens, the Nadal camp believes Federer is the greatest player of all time.
"Federer is the best in the history of the game alongside Rod Laver and, unfortunately for us, it is like that," Nadal's uncle and coach Toni Nadal said this month.
Few matches for Nadal
Despite this, Nadal has consistently had the upper hand on the world number two throughout their illustrious careers.
The Spaniard holds a 23-10 lifetime record over Federer and has not lost to him in a Grand Slam since the Wimbledon final of 2007.
But Nadal is feeling the attritional effects of wear and tear stemming from more than 850 career matches which have left him unable to sustain intense physical pressure for long periods.
One of his biggest problems, apart from needing to recover physically and mentally after an appendectomy, is that he has had few matches since Wimbledon in July.
"I want to arrive in Australia being competitive, that's my goal," Nadal said.
"You can win, you can lose, but I am doing all the things I need to be ready for the action." Wawrinka, who defeated Nadal in last year's Australian Open final, heads to Melbourne in good shape after winning the Chennai Open for a second year.
"I am very happy with my game and I will be ready when the Open starts," he said.
Andy Murray, who has had three runner-up finishes at the Open, has been troubled by a lingering left shoulder problem.
The British dual Grand Slam champion had a scan which cleared him of serious problems, however the niggle again caused discomfort during the Hopman Cup in Perth.
"If it was my right shoulder it would probably be quite hard for me to play, I do not feel it on my groundstrokes as much but I feel it when I am serving," he said.
Among a new wave of players who could make things interesting throughout 2015 is Japanese star Kei Nishikori.
The 25-year-old last year became the first Asian male to play in a Grand Slam final at the US Open, falling to Croatian Marin Cilic.