The world’s finest tennis players are converging on Australia in search of grand slam riches and a summer treasure chest totalling almost $50 million.
All roads ultimately lead to Melbourne Park for the Australian Open starting on January 18 but the game’s biggest names are taking vastly different routes to the season’s first major.
While Novak Djokovic has once again opted to skip the lead-up events in Australia as he eyes an unprecedented sixth men’s Open crown, the world No.1’s leading rivals will launch their 2016 campaigns in either Brisbane or Perth on Sunday, or Sydney, Melbourne or Hobart in the second week of January.
The heat is already on world No.2 Andy Murray, who arrived in Perth on Monday night.
Boasting his highest-ever year-end ranking, the Scot will team with Heather Watson for Great Britain at the Hopman Cup exhibition mixed event from January 3-9.
“It’s very hot here, nearly 40 degrees, so the players will be sweating it out,” said Hopman Cup director Paul Kilderry.
Lleyton Hewitt had one final training session in Sydney on Tuesday before he too ventured west to fine-tune for a record 20th and final Australian Open tilt.
Hewitt will partner Jarmila Gajdosova in the Australia Gold line-up, with young guns Nick Kyrgios and Daria Gavrilova forming Australia Green as the host nation assembles two teams for the first time in the Hopman Cup’s 26-year history.
Women’s world No.1 Serena Williams, forming Team USA with Jack Sock, is due in on New Year’s Day, around the same time as Roger Federer touches down in Australia to try to defend his Brisbane International title.
Runner-up to Djokovic at the past two majors, Federer will become tennis’s first $US100 million ($A137.88 million) prize money earner if he manages to break through for an elusive 18th grand slam singles triumph on January 31.
The Swiss master racked up the 1000th match win of his career in the 2015 Brisbane final and few would begrudge the 34-year-old world No.3 another magic milestone in Melbourne.
Australian No.1 Bernard Tomic will also launch his season in Brisbane, where two-time women’s Open champion Victoria Azarenka has gained a head start on Williams and others hoping to challenge for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup.
Azarenka, on the comeback trail after crippling foot and knee injuries sent her spiralling out of the top 40, has been preparing in steamy Brisbane since Boxing Day.
Five of the world’s top 10, including titleholder Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Wimbledon finalist Garbine Muguruza, plus Azarenka and Australia’s former US Open champion Samantha Stosur headline the women’s draw in the Queensland capital.
Tomic will be the men’s top seed at the Sydney International from January 10, with the world No.18 hoping to claim a fourth ATP trophy where he landed his very first in 2013 and was runner-up the following year.
Many women’s heavyweights are also heading to Sydney for one last Open warm-up, including Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Angelique Kerber, Jelena Jankovic and Stosur.
The Hobart International, traditionally a breeding ground for future women’s stars, has attracted the likes of Sloane Stephens, former Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova and Eugenie Bouchard, as the popular Canadian attempts to complete her first match since being concussed in a freak dressing-room fall at the US Open in September.