Twelve – time Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic headlines a list of walking wounded at the Australian Open , with the Serb desperate to get back to winning ways after six months out injured .
The former world number one is making a tilt at a record seventh Melbourne Park crown , but has some serious rust to shake off if he is to make an impression .
Djokovic has been sidelined since Wimbledon in July , with a Tie Break Tens exhibition event on Wednesday and the Kooyong Classic , where he is drawn to play world number five Dominic Thiem , his only chance to test his right elbow injury.
“Finally back in the land down under. I feel ready. Idemo ! ( let ’ s go) ,” he tweeted on Sunday, posting a video of himself hitting on Rod Laver Arena .
But after pulling out of an Abu Dhabi tournament late last month and admitting “I still feel the pain ”, a big question mark hangs over how competitive Djokovic can be .
Having added mercurial former tour player Radek Stepanek to a coaching team spearheaded by Andre Agassi , Djokovic only started hitting tennis balls again in November .
He admits being sidelined has not been easy, and that missing the US Open last year, the first Slam he has not played since 2005 , was particularly hard .
“It’s been a real roller -coaster ride for me for a year – and- a- half with this issue . I’ ve never had surgery in my life , I ’ve never had any major injuries that kept me away from the tour for such a long time, ” he told Sport 360 in Abu Dhabi .
“I never missed a Grand Slam in my career . It was a big decision, a big call to make. I couldn ’ t play anymore , there was no choice . It was like , that’ s it, you can ’t lift your arm.”
A decade after winning his first Melbourne Park title Djokovic has slipped to 14 in the world , his lowest in 10 years , giving him extra drive to make inroads at the season -opening major .
Also coming back from injuries are 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka ( knee ) , big – serving Canadian Milos Raonic ( calf and wrist) , and world number one Rafael Nadal ( knee ) .
At least they remain in contention , unlike Scot Andy Murray ( hip ) and Japanese star Kei Nishikori ( wrist) who both pulled out last week , depriving the tournament of some serious star power .
The mighty Serena Williams , a 23 – time Grand Slam champion, has also decided against rushing into a comeback after giving birth to her first child in September .
– ‘Knees , shoulders , ankles ’ –
One of those who is fully fit , at 36 , is defending champion Roger Federer, who says the injuries and pullouts are no surprise .
“A lot of the guys are just touching 30 -plus , you know . Back in the day , at 30 , a lot of guys were retiring — Edberg , Sampras, ” he said at the season -ending World Tour Finals in London .
“When somebody is injured at 31 , it’s like , ‘Oh my God , how is this possible ?’ Actually, it’s a normal thing.”
Djokovic said he has learned much from his injury , and hoped to use that knowledge to avoid having such a serious problem again .
“I’ ve learned a lesson because I really want to avoid getting to that stage of an injury ever in my career after this ,” he said .
On the women ’s side , world number three Garbine Muguruza , US Open champion Sloane Stephens and upcoming French star Caroline Garcia have all had injury -hit preparations .
Britain ’s Johanna Konta , a semi -finalist in Melbourne two years ago , ended her Brisbane International campaign early last week with a right hip injury .
“Hips take a massive beating ,” admitted Konta , pointing to the game becoming more physical, with tournaments week in and week out .
“But so do knees , so do shoulders, so do ankles , wrists . Take your pick. Back, lower back. And everything in between.”