Rafael Nadal's uncle and former coach Toni Nadal believes 2018 will be a difficult year for the likes of Roger Federer and his nephew. The return of seasoned pros such as Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka, who missed the 2017 stretch through injury, will play a part in stiffening the competition.

Federer and Nadal made full use of a comparatively easier challenge, claiming two Slams each to end the year as the two top-ranked players of the season. Both players had a brilliant 2017 campaign where Nadal won the French Open and the US Open, while the Swiss ace took his tally to 19 with the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Djokovic, who was a doubt for the Australian Open after pulling out of the tournaments prior to Melbourne, has confirmed his participation following his arrival in Australia. Wawrinka, who last featured in Wimbledon in 2017, has also confirmed he is back, following an event with the tournament's ball kids at Melbourne Park on Tuesday (9 January).

Meanwhile, Andy Murray has pulled out of the tournament with a hip injury and expects to be back for Wimbledon after undergoing surgery. The former world number one initially saw surgery as a "secondary option" but after considering his options, he felt going under the knife was necessary to extend his career.

However, despite the competition, Toni hopes Rafa will continue his form and win his 11th Roland Garros title. Nadal featured in an exhibition match at the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne on Tuesday in a 4-6, 5-7 loss to Richard Gasquet.

"This year there have been circumstances. Djokovic has not been at his best, Murray either, Wawrinka has had more problems, also Nishikori and Raonic, although I do not despise what Federer and Rafa have done. When Djokovic won everything, he also said that he was lucky that he had not met against the best Rafa and Federer. That helped him and we have also been helped by this circumstance, " Toni told Mundo Deportivo.

"I think 2018 will be a difficult year to win many titles, but I hope that Rafa will continue to be the best on earth and can win Godó, Roland Garros and Monte Carlo, " he added.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal has had a brilliant 2017 Getty