Australia’s highest seed, Nick Kyrgios, is heartened by “massive improvements” in his injured knee and is confident his body can go the distance in arguably the most gruelling grand slam of the season.
The world No.14 has almost completed a course of cortisone and says the knee’s “feeling really good” ahead of his first-round match against Portugal’s world No.81 Gastao Elias on Monday.
“I’ve done four or five treatments on it. Got one more tomorrow,” Kyrgios said on Saturday.
“Yeah, it’s feeling a lot better since I last competed, which was in Perth. So I’ve had massive improvements in my knee.”
Despite having not played an ATP event in more than three months, Kyrgios doesn’t feel underdone.
“I’m never been a player to play many tournaments before a grand slam,” he said.
“I like to come in pretty fresh. So my expectations are high. I still feel like I can do some major damage and get to the second week and really cause some upsets.”
The 21-year-old arrives as a genuine title hope over the coming fortnight, should his knee hold up, and is excited about being presented with an inviting draw, with fourth-seeded former champion and US Open titleholder Stan Wawrinka the biggest name in his quarter.
“It’s very good. Obviously you get rewarded with a good draw the higher your seeding is,” Kyrgios said.
“I played well last year. Got my ranking to top 30 in the world. I’ve been rewarded.
“Saying that, Elias can play some pretty high-level tennis. Everyone in the draw can, can beat anyone on the day.
“I’ve got to go out there and not expect to win the match. I’ve got to go out there and just play and we’ll see how it goes.”
In the women’s draw, Serena Williams has every respect for Belinda Bencic, but has no plans on being bossed about in what looms as a dangerous Australian Open first-round match for the six-times champion.
Unseeded Bencic upset Williams in their most recent encounter, on a hard court en route to the 2015 Canadian Masters title before reaching the round of 16 at Melbourne Park last year.
Coached by Martina Hingis’s mother Melanie Molitor, the teenager soared to No.7 in the world before slipping to 48th entering this year’s Open.
Williams is suitably wary ahead of their first-round shootout on Tuesday.
“She’s done well here before. She’s had a good win over me. It’s never easy for me,” the second seed said on Saturday.
“So I always go out there, and all I can do is do my best. I didn’t come here to lose in the first round, or the second round, or at all.
“If I can play the way I’ve been practising, it will be fine.”
Bencic, on the comeback trail after a 2016 season blighted by injury upon injury, only realised she’d drawn Williams when “my Twitter was blowing up”.
“I was like, ‘what’s going on?’ That’s when I saw it,” she said.
“My first reaction was actually, like, really happy. So I’m super pumped, like excited I get to play on the big court.”
Far from overawed, the 19-year-old is relishing her shot at taking down arguably the greatest ever women’s player.
“Everyone is like, ‘oh, bad luck with the draw.’ Me, I’m, like, pretty happy and excited about it,” Bencic said.
“It’s a big match, playing against Serena Williams. It’s what everyone’s working for.”
Williams’ seventh Wimbledon triumph last year drew the American alongside Steffi Graf as the most prolific grand slam singles winner in professional tennis history.
But any discussion about catching Margaret Court’s all-time record 24 slams is off limits as the 35-year-old focuses solely on regaining the Open crown she relinquished to Angelique Kerber 12 months ago.
“Oh, I’m not talking about that. I’m just here to play and to win obviously, but just to play,” Williams said.