Melbourne, Australia , 2 February 2021 | Vivienne Christie

The sense of a happy homecoming is understandable as Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios make their long-awaited returns to the competitive arena in Melbourne.

At Melbourne Park last summer, Barty and Kyrgios added electrifying new chapters to their respective relationships with the Australian public.

As she progressed to a first Australian Open semifinal, Barty was also named the 2020 Young Australian of the Year– one of many accolades that followed the popular Queenslander’s Grand Slam breakthrough and rise to world No.1 in the previous year.

And Kyrgios thrived both on and off the court, with a stirring run to the fourth round accompanied by stunning efforts to launch the Aces for Bushfire Relief campaign.

Of equal significance is the fact that Australian Open 2020 was one of the last tournaments that each high-profile player contested last year.

A semifinal run in Doha last March marked the only tournament that Barty – who started her season with a first home title in Adelaide – played away from home.

Kyrgios took to the court in Acapulco but retired with injury in the first round against Ugo Humbert. The 25-year-old chose not to travel when the international tours resumed.

“Honestly it’s just come around so quick,” Kyrgios said of the upcoming Australian Open, where he’ll contest the main draw for the eighth time.

“It feels like I was literally sitting in this place two days ago after I lost to Rafa (Nadal in the fourth (round). Feels like nothing stopped happening.”

Yet there were in fact many things happening for Barty and Kyrgios, who both describe the personal development that occurred away from the game.

For the world No.1 Queenslander, time with family was precious.

“I think I was extremely grateful for the position, the situation that I was in at home. I absolutely took advantage of all the opportunities that I had at home,” the world No.1 told media of her first-round match at the Yarra Valley Classic.

“It was a great year. Of course, I would have loved to have played tennis. I would have loved to have played professionally. But that was a personal decision for me.

“I took the opportunity to stay at home and spend time with my family.”

> FEATURE: Ash Barty – A Happy Return

For Kyrgios, that valuable family time had even greater meaning last year.

“My time off I wasn’t thinking about tennis at all,” he admitted.

“I was going through a couple off-court things. My mum was not so healthy. I was focusing on things that actually matter to me personally. Tennis to me is not my top priority.”

Which is not to say that the Australians haven’t prepared for their tennis return.

Barty began her intense pre-season in October, while Kyrgios teamed with fellow Australian Jordan Thompson in his gradual return to practice.

“I’m not the great comparison to other players really in the sense of how many hours I put on court or anything like that. I’m never one to go out there and hit for four, five hours a day anyway,” he related.

“But I just felt mentally I felt like I was in a place mentally wanting to play and feel refreshed. I felt like I was always going to be playing well. I’m not a person that has to play plenty of matches before a Grand Slam or anything like that.”

Competitive spirit is well-entrenched in the Australian stars, all-round athlete Barty becoming the Brookwater Golf Club women’s champion in September and Kyrgios channelling his energy into other activities.

I’m not going to lie. I didn’t miss the game that much,” he admitted. “(But) I’m a competitor. I compete with everything I do. I was playing computer games, all that kind of stuff, getting my little competitive edge there.”

All attention now however, is on their respective campaigns in Melbourne – the top-seeded Barty kicking off her Yarra Valley Classic campaign against Romanian Ana Bogdan and Kyrgios taking on Frenchman Alexandre Muller in the first round of the Murray River Open.

They enter those matches with a clear appreciation for competing in Melbourne again.

“All the players are very excited and very grateful that we’ve got tennis back and we have an Australian summer,” said Barty.

Kyrgios, too, is relishing his tennis return. “I’m excited. I played a set with Jordan Thompson today. It was fun. It was fun to be out there,” he said in a pre-event media conference.

“I’m not taking this for granted at all either. It’s the Australian Open. I’m extremely blessed to be here again.”

Tickets for the Melbourne Summer Series, which begin from $20 for adults and $5 for children, are available through Ticketmaster. All events will be played within the Margaret Court Arena Zone at Melbourne Park.

TV GUIDE: How to watch the Melbourne Summer Series