MELBOURNE, Australia Without the glare of the cameras, or the roar of an appreciative crowd, Roger Federer shanked forehands and hit some backhands long inside Rod Laver Arena.
His girlfriend, Mirka Vavrinec, was with him at Melbourne Park's center court, wearing flip-flops in the heat and collecting wayward balls as Federer hit with Swiss Davis Cup captain Serevin Luethi.
That's as close as the 12-time Grand Slam champion got to a match situation this week before beginning his bid for a third consecutive Australian Open title.
It's a radically different buildup to the tournament for Federer.
Unable to enter his regular tuneup, the Kooyong exhibition tournament, because of a stomach illness, Federer has been easing himself back into shape for his first competitive tennis in two months.
Federer isn't worried, saying he wouldn't have hung around Melbourne if he didn't believe he could win the Australian Open, which starts Monday.
"I definitely think it's going to turn for the good and I'll be 100 percent, really, before the tournament," Federer said.
Even so, while Federer was hitting at Melbourne Park, his competitors have been playing matches.
No. 2 Rafael Nadal, the only player to beat Federer at a Grand Slam tournament in the last two seasons, reached the final at Chennai, India, last week. No. 3 Novak Djokovic helped Serbia reach the Hopman Cup final in Perth.
No. 6 Andy Roddick, who beat Federer in the Kooyong final last year before losing a one-sided semifinal at the Australian Open, defeated Marat Safin in the second round of Kooyong on Thursday.
"I can safely say none of us here are worried about Roger's preparations for the Australian Open," said Roddick, jokingly speaking on behalf of the rest of men's bracket. "I think I'll sleep OK!"
Taking a more realistic tone, Roddick later said Federer would cope better than most put in the same situation.
"If there's anybody who can take care of himself and play his way into form, it's Roger."
Serena Williams faced a worse predicament last year. Her loss in Hobart the week before was among her worst ever and she entered the Australian Open ranked No. 81 and unseeded.
Yet she beat six seeded players en route to the final, capping it with a lopsided win over top-seeded Maria Sharapova.
Williams' only warmup this year was at the Hopman Cup, where she teamed with Mardy Fish in the American victory over Serbia in the final. After confounding her critics last year, Williams was confident of returning to capture a ninth Grand Slam title.
"There's nothing better than a challenge, and I'm best when I am faced with one," she said. "I am definitely feeling fully prepared."
Her record at Melbourne Park almost rivals Federer's, although it is more sporadic. She has lost only once since a quarterfinal defeat in 2001, although she has missed two trips because of injuries.
This year, she's got the full complement of female stars to deal with.
Her sister Venus is back after skipping Melbourne last year because of a wrist problem. Later in 2007, Venus claimed her fourth Wimbledon title and sixth major overall.
"It is very exciting, especially going into the Australian, playing so well," Venus said last week after her straight-sets win over Sharapova in the Hong Kong exhibition tournament.
Justine Henin won the French and U.S. Opens in 2007 and would like to continue that run at the Australian Open, where success has eluded her the last two years. She quit during the 2006 final against Amelie Mauresmo because of a stomach illness and missed last year's tournament because she was going through a divorce.
Henin has won 43 of her last 44 matches, a stretch that began at the French Open and includes her run to the final at the Sydney International this week.
"I can say (2007) has been the best season of my career, but it has probably been the most difficult year of my life," Henin said.
She split with husband Pierre-Yves Hardenne and renewed relations with estranged family members.
"The fact that I have my family back in my life changed a lot of things and brought me a lot of joy to do what I love so much," she said. "I think I remained pretty healthy also in 2007, so that helps to be more consistent and that gives confidence."
The 25-year-old Belgian had a 94 percent winning percentage rate last season, the best on the women's tour since Steffi Graf in 1989, giving her a firm grip on the No. 1 ranking ahead of Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia and Jelena Jankovic and Ana Ivanovic, both of Serbia.
Another former No. 1, Lindsay Davenport, is making a comeback as a mom. And the American is on a roll of her own.
Davenport won in Auckland last week for her third title in four events since giving birth last June to her first child, son Jagger.
"I didn't think my body would bounce back as fast as it has after giving birth, and the strain of pregnancy," she said, "so I'm excited now about going to the huge stage of the Australian Open and seeing what can happen."
Davenport won the last of her three majors in Australia in 2000 before the Williams sisters began dominating the tour.
About the time the Williams sisters were relinquishing their grip on the women's game, Federer started his reign atop the men's rankings and has remained there.
He is aiming to be the first man to win three consecutive Australian Opens in the Open era and wants to add to his run of 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals.
To do it at Rod Laver Arena, which he has made his own, he'll also have to contend with a new surface, the blue Plexicushion that replaced the Rebound Ace at Melbourne Park.
And while he's had some practice on the new surface, competitors such as Roddick, Safin, Fernando Gonzalez and Marcos Baghdatis the last two were runners-up in the Australian Open have been getting match practice on the Plexicushion across town at Kooyong.
On the plus side for Federer is that three players who have beaten him more than once since he assumed the No. 1 ranking in 2004 also have not had match time on the new surface.
David Nalbandian had to withdraw from Kooyong after experiencing back spasms in a practice session.
Fellow Argentine Guillermo Canas is injured and out of the Australian Open, and Nadal has not played competitively since Chennai.
Nalbandian beat Federer and Nadal in two tournaments in October to surge from No. 25 to No. 9 in the rankings and collect titles at Madrid and Paris.
Nalbandian expected to be fit by the weekend and was hoping for another chance against Federer.
He is 8-8 against the Swiss star and, like the other top players, he is glad to have any opening, however small, against the world's best player.
"It's motivation he's the No. 1 in the world and he just lost a few matches in the (last) year."