MELBOURNE, Australia — With Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic among the walking wounded and Serena Williams already deciding not to defend her title, injuries and absentees have been the focus of attention ahead of the Australian Open.

That’s not bothering Roger Federer, who is returning as defending champion just 12 months after entering the season-opening Grand Slam tournament seeded 17th and uncertain of his prospects after six months off the tour with an injured left knee.

Second-seeded Federer and No. 14-seeded Djokovic have almost traded places. They’re in the same half of the draw — along with No. 4 Alexander Zverev, No. 5 Dominc Thiem, No. 7 David Goffin and No. 9 Stan Wawrinka, the 2014 Australian Open winner who is also returning from injury.

Nadal skipped the year-end championship last November and delayed the start of his 2018 season, so he’s also had only exhibition matches to see how his right knee has recovered. Five-time finalist Andy Murray withdrew more than a week ahead of time, deciding to have surgery on a right hip problem that had kept him off the tour since Wimbledon. Kei Nishikori also withdrew.

And so if the 2017 Australian Open was one for the ages — the revival of the Federer- Nadal rivalry and another Williams sisters final — the 2018 edition is shaping as a survival of the fittest.

Serena Williams, who was pregnant when she beat Venus here last year to claim her 23rd major title, gave birth to her first child — Alexis Olympia — in September. She said it didn’t leave her enough time to feel confident of winning a major.

The No. 1-ranking changed seven times in 2017, with five different women assuming top spot — three for the first time.

Venus Williams says Serena is “here in spirit” supporting her in Australia, where she’s hopeful of ending an almost decade-long Grand Slam title drought. At 37, Venus is seeded No. 5, coming off a loss to former No. 1 Anglique Kerber in Sydney and has a tougher opener against Belinda Bencic, who combined with Federer last week to win the Hopman Cup.

She led the WTA Tour in prize money last year ahead of Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep, who ended the year at No. 1.

Entering as the No. 1 seed for the first time at a major and at a tournament where she’s had back-to-back first-round exits, two-time French Open finalist Halep opens against teenage wild-card entry Destanee Aiava. She could face two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova in the third round and Karolina Pliskova in the quarters.

Muguruza, who withdrew from the Sydney International before the quarterfinals with a sore right thigh after retiring during her first match at the Brisbane International because of cramping, is in the same quarter as U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys, Australian Open 2016 champion Kerber and five-time major winner Maria Sharapova, returning to Melbourne two years after a failed doping test here led to a 15-month suspension.

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