The prospects of an unprecedented 20th grand slam victory have strengthened for ageless wonder Roger Federer as his main rivals flounder ahead of the Australian Open. The 36-year-old is coming off an extraordinary 2017, when he won a fifth Australian Open title and a record eighth at Wimbledon, and there could be yet more glory with a depleted field of top contenders in Melbourne. “I just have to pace myself all the way up to the tournament in Melbourne, and I’ll be ready,” said Federer after his Hopman Cup final victory with Switzerland teammate Belinda Bencic, where he won all his matches. “I’m just excited going back to Melbourne where I had my fairy-tale run last year. It was crazy.” Andy Murray and Japan’s Kei Nishikori are already out of the year’s opening grand slam with injuries, while 12-time major champion Novak Djokovic is troubled by an elbow complaint and has not played for six months. World number one Rafael Nadal withdrew from his first tour event of 2018, in Brisbane, with continuing knee problems, and is seeking match practice in a Melbourne exhibition event ahead of the January 15 start. The 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, who has not played since last year’s Wimbledon and subsequent knee surgery, has had little warm-up work and is no longer with his four-year coach Magnus Norman. “It’s great to be the defending champion,” added Federer. “I take it the right way. I won’t put extra pressure on myself, regardless of who’s going to play, or not play. “For me it’s just important to be in a good mindset, well prepared, and ready to go. And I feel like I am ready.” Nadal, who lost to Federer in five sets in a vintage Melbourne final last year, has opted to join Djokovic at the Kooyong Classic exhibition event for some match practice in the week before the Australian Open. The Spaniard, who has not played since the World Tour Finals in London, had a stellar 2017, winning his 10th French Open, a third US Open crown and the year-ending world number one spot. Six-time Australian Open champion Djokovic pulled out of events in Abu Dhabi and Doha with elbow soreness before heading to Melbourne, and has not played since the problem forced him to quit Wimbledon in the quarter-finals in July. Milos Raonic is another with a chequered preparation after wrist surgery last year, while American world number eight Jack Sock hurt his hip while playing in the Hopman Cup.