The 27-year-old missed the tournament last year as he continued his recovery from knee problems but arrived Down Under as world number one thanks to a phenomenal comeback season.
Nadal won 10 tournaments last year, including the French and US Opens, and began his 2014 season by lifting the trophy in Doha.
But good news was in short supply for the Spaniard when the draw was made at Melbourne Park on Friday.
Firstly he was paired with Bernard Tomic in the first round, and should he make it past the mercurial Australian, dangerous names like Gael Monfils, Lleyton Hewitt and Juan Martin del Potro await in his quarter.
Tomic, 21, is ranked only 52nd but is one of the most talented young players in the men's game and loves a big occasion, especially on home soil.
He has made at least the third round in Melbourne for the last three years and will only arrive at Melbourne Park on Sunday after playing in the final of the Apia International in Sydney, which he lost to Del Potro.
"Good start," said Nadal with a smile. "It's not the best round I know to start a grand slam, playing against a player who is local and who is young, who played great in the past here, and who is playing well.
"It's a tough start. But I just need to be ready and practise with great tactics every day, try to do the right things in every moment to arrive in the first round with the competitive (juices flowing). That's the only way."
Nadal met Tomic at the Australian Open two years ago, prevailing in three sets but having been a break down in two of them.
"He's always a challenging player," said the Spaniard. "He has a big talent. He has a good serve. He's able to play with very good control from the baseline."
As well as the draw, Nadal has also found the courts not to his liking and expressed his unhappiness at the difference he feels from two years ago, when he lost an epic final to Novak Djokovic.
He said: "It's completely different conditions than what I remembered of this tournament. It's faster conditions that I ever played here in Australia.
"I really don't understand very well why they change because the last couple of years, the Australian Open had amazing matches, long ones, good ones for the crowd. I don't know why the people decided to make the conditions that fast.
"I arrived one week before (the tournament). I think that I am practising better a little bit every day. I hope to adjust my game to these conditions.
"I was able to play well in fast conditions in the past. But it's true that I need to play my best to really have chances to be very competitive here against everybody."
Federer agreed the courts are quicker but, not surprisingly given his aggressive game, is more than happy and believes Nadal has little to complain about.
He said: "I think it's nice. It's a little bit faster than last year, but not a whole lot.
"I don't know what the big problem is. You can still play from the baseline, no problem. You can stay back, return from the back. You can do all that stuff if you want to. It's not like it's impossible."
Fourth seed Andy Murray, meanwhile, maintained the courts and balls are exactly the same as last year and is more concerned by what he described as "a very big slope" on the redeveloped Margaret Court Arena.
Should Nadal overcome the challenges to lift the title, it would mean he had won every grand slam at least twice, adding further credence to claims he is the greatest player of all time.
"It will be something really difficult," he said. "I'm going to try to do it in the next couple of years, but knowing that it always is a big challenge."