Nadal's touching tribute to Uncle Toni

Rafael Nadal has paid a wonderful tribute to his uncle Toni ahead of his first grand slam campaign without his long-time coach.

On his 13th visit to Melbourne Park, Nadal is still experiencing firsts, set to play this year's Australian Open without an official match under his belt for the first time.

And there's been a changing of the guard in his coaching box, with his long time mentor uncle Toni Nadal leaving his official entourage at the end of last year.

That's two major shake-ups for the 31-year-old, famously known as a creature of habit.

"It's a new situation for me. But I feel good," he said on Saturday.

Toni and Rafa Nadal after last year's French Open. Image: Getty

"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."

Nadal pulled out of season-starting events Abu Dhabi and Brisbane due to the lingering effects of a knee injury, but said his last fortnight of practice had been as tough as he had wanted.

"We decided to start later because we needed some more practice. Start slow, to be fresher, a little bit more fresh mentally and physically," he said.

He played an exhibition match against Richard Gasquet at the Kooyong Classic in third-gear, stepping up his preparation with a specially-arranged practice match with Dominic Thiem on Margaret Court Arena on Friday.

All without his once-omnipresent uncle and coach.

"It's a change in my career," he said.

"It's my first tournament that he is not my official coach. But I played plenty of tournaments in my career without Toni (present).

"I can't thank him enough for everything. But now he decided to do another thing. He is focused on the academy.

"I'm happy with the way that I am working with (coaches) Carlos (Moya), with Francis (Roig) and the rest of my team."

Of course, after a decade of dominating the sport - along with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray - there's nothing new about seeing Nadal as world No.1.

He is top-seeded at Melbourne Park for the fourth time in his career, searching for his second Australian title.

"It's better to start No.1 than No.20," he joked.

"But everyone starts from zero. I start from zero again.

"I hope to be healthy and competitive, and most important thing, I hope to enjoy tennis one more year."

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