The Australian Open usually promises to be a Grand Slam pretty much unparalleled, but this is not just because of its being the year?s first major event in the sport.
This year?s edition is already witnessing the absence of some key players, and with this a lot of curiosities and possibilities have come into play as it get underways Monday in Melbourne.
Where once it held the possibility of regathering high-profile players like Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori, it will boast half those six, lacking Williams, Murray and Nishikori.
Williams withdrew following the effects of having given birth last September and Murray with the hip injury that short-circuited his 2017 season last July at Wimbledon.
Nishikori will not be taking part due to a wrist injury that has made him inactive on the ATP Tour since last August in Montreal.
It is a fact that 12 months ago, two players launching comebacks, number nine seed Rafael Nadal and number 17 seed Roger Federer, wounded up in the Australian final, with Federer winning a stirring five-set gem.
Yet nobody knows how any of this year?s rusty sorts might function, or how those who have grabbed their formerly unattainable rankings will function with fresh pressure.
Federer found himself in a slightly awkward position after the Australian Open draw on Thursday at Margaret Court Arena.
When the formalities were completed, the Swiss found out how difficult defending his title could be after landing in the same half as six-time champion Novak Djokovic.
First up, the 36-year-old Swiss will play Ajaz Bedene of Slovenia, and he also has number seven ranked David Goffin, Juan Martin del Potro, Sam Querrey, and Milos Raonic in his quarter.
There?s a potential semi-final against Djokovic, who is aiming for a record seventh Australian Open title but is seeded 14th as he returns from six months on the sidelines with a right elbow injury.
Djokovic is in the same quarter as the Zverev brothers, with fourth-seeded Alexander likely to meet older brother and number 32-seeded Mischa in the third round.
2014 champion Stan Wawrinka and number five Dominic Thiem are also likely opponents.
Federer beat Rafael Nadal the number one seed in the final last year on his return from six months on the sidelines and is seeded number two as he bids for a 20th Grand Slam singles title.
Djokovic had a contrasting 2017, starting at number two but losing in a second-round upset at the Australian Open and not playing again after Wimbledon.
It was the first year since 2009 that Djokovic didn?t reach at least one Grand Slam final. He delayed his return until two exhibition appearances last week.
Top-ranked Nadal will open against Victor Estrella Burgos, and has a potential fourth-round match against John Isner, and with number three Grigor Dimitrov in his half of the draw.
He followed his run to the final in Melbourne by winning the French Open and U.S. Open, splitting the Grand Slam honours with Federer for the year.
Serena Williams has opted not to defend her title four months after giving birth to her first child, leaving the women?s draw open.
Her sister Venus, who lost the all-Williams Australian Open final last year, has a tough opener against Belinda Bencic ? who combined with Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland recently.
Venus is also in the same quarter as U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens.
Top-ranked Simona Halep opens against Australian wild card Destanee Aiava and has a potential second-round match against 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard.
Halep is also in the same half as Garbine Muruguza, the Wimbledon champion.
Third-seeded Muguruza is in a difficult quarter containing former Australian Open champions Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber, and U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys.
Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian title and reached three other finals at Melbourne Park, missed last year?s tournament during a 15-month suspension after a failed doping test in 2016.
The five-time major winner finished 2017 ranked number 60, meaning she missed out on a seeding for the Australian Open and could face 2016 champion Kerber in the third round.
Organisers had on Thursday strived to defend the decision to invite Sharapova to appear as the representative for the women?s draw.
Tournament director Craig Tiley noted that the sanction was over and the 30-year-old Russian was there as a former champion.
Sharapova said after a long time out she had to be patient coming back to the tour, but was still confident of returning to the top ranking and winning major tournaments.
?The drive, I still have it. I certainly will hope I put myself in that position,? Sharapova said.
?I put a lot of expectations on myself because I have been there, and I have delivered in those moments. I expect to continue to do so.?
In spite of the absence of a few big names, the 2018 Australian Open will still be expected to ignite passion and deliver excitement to millions of spectators as well as tennis enthusiasts around the world.
This is important, not just as the season?s first major, but because it will define the year for most of the sport?s big names, especially the limping ones.