The defending champion's lame, the favourite's under a fitness cloud too, the top seed can't win on the big stage and the big home hope is once again feeling the heat.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 2012 women's Australian Open, an unofficial lottery being staged at Melbourne Park from Monday.
"There's a dozen or more players who can win it and I don't think we've seen that before," said Luke Jenkins of topsport.com.au.
Titleholder Kim Clijsters' withdrawal from the Brisbane International with a hip injury, later diagnosed as a muscle spasm requiring a subsequent MRI scan, and Serena Williams' scratching from the Open lead-up event with a sprained ankle has created the most level playing field in history.
Underdone Clijsters and Williams, unlike ailing older sister Venus, will both take their places in a draw headed by Danish diva Caroline Wozniacki.
But the superstar pair's fitness concerns, Wozniacki's well-documented inability to land her maiden major during her 65-week stint as world number one and three more additions to the grand slam winners' club in 2011 is giving their rivals newfound hope.
Indeed such is the depth in women's tennis right now that more players have contested grand slam finals (14) in the past four years than men (13) have won majors in the past decade.
While Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, the men's top three, have amassed 30 grand slams between them, the top three female players have a combined total of one solitary major to speak of.
Compare that to the 17 for Clijsters and Williams, both now outside the top 10, and it's anyone's title at Melbourne Park.
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Li Na, the Open's 2011 runner-up to Clijsters before breaking through in Paris, Australia's US Open winner Samantha Stosur - despite her poor lead-up form - and world number three Victoria Azarenka loom as Wozniacki's greatest dangers.
Big-hitting Brisbane champion Kaia Kanepi, former winner Maria Sharapova - if she can manage her ongoing ankle injury - major finalists Marion Bartoli and Vera Zvonareva, rising stars Agnieszka Radwanska and Sabine Lisicki and crafty veteran Francesca Schiavone are also not without hope of hoisting the Daphne Akhurst Trophy on January 28.
Wozniacki, though, is neither fazed by the growing threats or feeling the pressure to vindicate her lofty standing with an overdue slam.
"I finished the year as number one twice in a row and very few people have finished number one and very few people have held on to the number one ranking," said the queen without a crown.
"I've held it for 64 weeks so that's a lot and a great achievement and it's always been a dream of mine to reach that ranking.
"But now it's just about improving my game and to try to win as many matches as I can."
At the very least, the dogged Dane is promising to fight til the death in Melbourne.
"Yeah, I hate losing," Wozniacki said.
"I always do everything I can to win a game and I want to stand in the end as the winner and have won the last point."
AAPTags: sport, tennis, melbourne-3000, vic, australia First posted January 12, 2012 14:23:46