Summer of tennis: On for young and old Down Under
NICK Kyrgios taking on Roger Federer. The master against the apprentice.
It's the match-up that Australian tennis great and now Channel Seven commentator Todd Woodbridge most wants to see this summer.
They may be poles apart when it comes to grace and sportsmanship - and at the opposite ends of their respective careers - but for flair on the court, the Swiss master and Aussie bad boy are hard to beat.
"If we were lucky enough to get a Kyrgios-Federer match, imagine what that would be like,” says Woodbridge, a 16-time grand slam doubles champion.
Woodbridge is eagerly anticipating the pair getting back on the ATP Tour during a blockbuster month of tennis Down Under - arguably the biggest the country has ever hosted.
Federer, 34, is returning from an extended lay-off with injury; Kyrgios, 21, from an enforced time-out through suspension.
And while the pair going head to head on centre court at Melbourne Park during the Australian Open would be the ideal scenario for the likes of Woodbridge, they may lock horns a few weeks earlier at Perth Arena.
Both will make their comebacks at the Hopman Cup, when Federer represents Switzerland with Belinda Bencic and Kyrgios teams with Daria Gavrilova as the defending champion Australian combination in the other side of the draw.
While a star-studded list of big names head for Brisbane to start their preparations for the Australian Open, Federer will contest the eight-team tournament after knee surgery.
"I just love watching him play. I think he's the most graceful tennis player I've ever seen,” Woodbridge tells Australian Regional Media.
"And the fact that Roger is back after a six-month break - the Hopman Cup will be his first tournament since Wimbledon (in June) - I think that is going to be quite exciting to watch.
"I wouldn't be surprised if he came back and played brilliantly.
"It is the first time in his career that he has ever had a break. To never be injured to a point where he's forced to get off the tour, I think it may have done him the world of good. It is a bit of time to recharge ... his body has never had that.”
While Woodbridge hopes the controversial Kyrgios is given "enough breathing space” to allow him to thrive, he says "that's not going to happen”.
The spotlight will be on the rising star like never before - coming off his ban and playing at home.
"(But) if he keeps his head on his shoulders he may be able to sneak a slam title this year,” Woodbridge says of the player who won a career-best three titles in 2016 and rose to No.13 in the world - three places higher than Federer.
"We've already seen he's capable of beating the best players in the world.
"The positive for him leading into the Australian Open is he'll have played the Hopman Cup, a relaxed exhibition tournament - there's no points attached to it ... He won't be under as much tournament stress as he could be and I think that's a good thing.”
After the fallout from his moment of madness in Shanghai when conceding against German Mischa Zverev - "something he won't want to replicate” - Woodbridge hopes Kyrgios can let his "racquet do the talking”.
"People love watching him,” he says. "He's so dynamic, he's a shot maker. He's sees an opportunity and he goes for it.”
While Federer and Kyrgios ease back into action in Perth, another all-time great in Rafael Nadal will take centre stage at the ever-growing Brisbane International, also starting New Year's Day.
The 30-year-old former world No.1 is in the twilight of a glittering career but determined to add to his 14 grand slam wins after battling a wrist injury throughout 2016.
"He wants to be able to leave the sport on his own terms, not having his body say it's time to hang it up,” says Woodbridge, who will be in Brisbane to call the action. "He's really working hard to make that happen.
"It's going to be interesting watching him because physically he's not the player he once was so he's going to have to do it with a different style of play.
"He's going have to keep points shorter than he ever used to.”
Brisbane is fast becoming the lead-up tournament of choice for the world's top players ahead of the Australian Open.
Granted, new world No.1 Andy Murray and No.2 Novak Djokovic are chasing the $US1.3 million on offer to the winner at the Qatar Open (starting on Monday) in Doha, while Marin Cilic heads the line-up at the Chennai Open.
But, as well as world No.9 Nadal, Brisbane has attracted defending champion Milos Raonic (world No.3), Stan Wawrinka (4), Kei Nishikori (5) and Dominic Thiem (8) in the men's draw, and no less than women's No.1 Angelique Kerber.
"It's the perfect setting for preparation,” Woodbridge says. "Great weather, good courts. We, meaning tennis in the country, has created a better set-up than what we've had before.
"The fact they have now been able to bring Rafa in for the Brisbane and Queensland public to see one of the greatest players that has ever played the game is quite extraordinary.
"You are better off preparing here in Australia than you are in the Middle East, travelling 16 hours and rocking up a couple of days before, and getting used to time changes, temperatures and things like that.”
And for Federer and Nadal it is doubly important.
"They are in the back end of their careers now and are searching for those one or two more majors that they might be able to add to their resume,” Woodbridge says. "They are doing everything they can to do that.”
SLAM RECORD IN SIGHT FOR SERENA
SERENA Williams will be based in New Zealand for much of the lead-up to the Australian Open, contesting the Auckland Open.
But all eyes will be on the 34-year-old when she hits the courts at Melbourne Park in search of a seventh title there and - more importantly - a 23rd grand slam, taking her past Steffi Graf (22) and within one of record-holder Margaret Court (24).
Williams was beaten in last year's Australian Open final by German Angelique Kerber, who also displaced the American as world No.1 after 186 straight weeks on top as she struggled with a shoulder injury.
"I think it's going to be a great year watching her,” Australian tennis great Todd Woodbridge says. "She's motivated by the fact she can become the greatest player of all time, male or female. I don't think she's going to stop until she reaches that and for us that's great.
"She may not win them in a row, and when she does pass Margaret she might hang it up
"Without her I think the women's game will lack a huge amount of personality, so let's embrace her while we've still got this opportunity.”
Kerber, who added the US Open to her Australian title, will again be Williams' main obstacle.
The 28-year-old will have loaded up prior as the top seed at both the Brisbane and Sydney internationals.