THE Australian Open begins tomorrow with Roger Federer defending his title against a hungry pack led by Rafael Nadal, as Andy Murray watches from the sidelines, recovering in Melbourne after his hip operation just six days ago.

But though the Scot will not be on court, he may yet have an influence on the destiny of the title, with a maturing Nick Kyrgios maybe, just maybe, ready to make a run at a grand slam title.

It was Murray who singled out Kyrgios for special attention early in the Australian’s career, taking him under his wing, a generous gesture in the hostile environment of the Tour, where each man is usually out for himself.

Murray gave Kyrgios advice and also defended him when he erred, never condoning his behaviour, which crossed the line on more than one occasion, but trying to put it into context, especially in terms of his age.

It was a gesture that Kyrgios holds dear to this day.

“It was huge,” said the Australian yesterday, who is bidding to become the first home winner since 1976, when Mark Edmondson won at nearby Kooyong.

“He knows there’s a lot more work for me to do, to become a great of the game. But it was awesome of him to help me out this much. Obviously it sucks that he’s not here at the Australian Open, where he’s played well and had such good success. It’s good to have him around. We’re definitely missing him in the locker room.”

Kyrgios has had his own hip problems, too, so knows something about what Murray has been going through, even if he did not require surgery.

“It’s tough,” he said. “His hip’s a lot worse than mine, it’s keeping him out for a lot longer than I was with mine, but it’s just unfortunate.

“Our game styles are a lot different as well. He has to work for his points.

I hope he can do whatever he can to get back because he’s obviously a gem of the game, people love seeing him play and he’s massive for us.”

Victory in the warm-up event in Brisbane last weekend was the ideal start for Kyrgios, who has never been past the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam but he believes he is in the kind of form to upset the big guns, thanks in no small part, to an increasing maturity. “I think last year there were periods where I was really good and really bad. But I can’t expend too much energy on other things. I want to kind of ride the highs, not as high as I usually do.

“If I lose a match, at the end of the day it’s a tennis match. I want to keep it even-keeled throughout the whole year rather than being such a rollercoaster ride.”

In a country that produced so many legendary players, from Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall to Roy Emerson and John Newcombe, Kyrgios carries the expectation of a nation.

Coping with such pressure can be difficult but Kyrgios says it is more of an inspiration than a hindrance.

“I probably feel a bit better this time around,” he said. “I feel relaxed. Obviously winning a tournament before you play a Grand Slam always helps.

“At the end of the day, I know even if I lose in the first round here, there’s a long year ahead. Obviously I’d love to do well here, but for me it’s just another tournament.”

Nadal, meanwhile, pronounced himself happy with his fitness, albeit a little concerned as he plays a Grand Slam without a warm-up event for the first time.

“It is a new situation for me,” Nadal said. “But I feel good. I feel that I had a good week-and-a-half of practice.

I really hope to be ready. I feel myself more or less playing well.”

Six-time champion Novak Djokovic is also here, though what kind of form he will be in is anyone’s guess. The Serb has not played since Wimbledon last summer because of an elbow injury and though he finally says the pain is gone, he admits he is not 100 per cent, unsure what will happen when he plays under the pressure of competition.

“It hasn’t been 100 per cent yet healed,” Djokovic said. “But right now it’s at the level where I can compete, and every day is getting better. I’m hoping that it can be 100 per cent at the start of the tournament.

“I don’t know how it’s going to behave. Even if it was 100 per cent healed, after six months of no competition, you never know how you’re going to react. So let’s see. There’s not much more I can do. I’ve done really everything in my power, with a team of people around me, to enable me to compete in the Australian Open.”

Stan Wawrinka, the champion in 2014, is another returning from injury – knee surgery – but the Swiss only decided to play after a practice session yesterday.

“I think the fact that I’m here and I’m going to play the first [event], it’s a big victory,” Wawrinka said. “The knee is getting way better. I still have a lot of work to do physically and also tennis-wise to be to my top level.

“I’m going to take the time I need for that. I need to start somewhere anyway. It’s a good place to start, to get pushed, to see also mentally how I’m going to react, how I’m going to feel when I’m going to be playing matches.”

Federer is the bookmakers’ favourite to repeat his shock win from 12 months ago, when he came back from six months out after injury to win his 18th Grand Slam title, following it with No 19 at Wimbledon last year.

He and Nadal are seeded to meet again in the final but with Grigor Dimitrov and Sascha Zverev lurking in the wings, nothing is guaranteed.

Perhaps this is Kyrgios’ time. And if it is, you can bet Murray, recuperating nearby, will be cheering him on.