When Wimbledon gets underway on Monday, the race to the women's title in two weeks' time is expected to be wide open. Without Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova in the fray, there's an undeniable lack of star power but that provides the sport's less heralded names to steal the limelight in the third Grand Slam of the year. With twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who has recovered from a knife assault, new-mum Victoria Azarenka, world No 1 Angelique Kerber, and young French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko vying for the title, the women's draw will be exciting this fortnight.
Having stepped away from the court as she waits to become a mother in September, Serena, who won Wimbledon in 2015 and 2016, has created a power vacuum at the top that Sharapova was expected to fill when the Russian returned from her doping suspension. Instead, Sharapova lasted just three tournaments before a muscle injury in Rome forced the five-time Major winner to withdraw from the Wimbledon qualifying tournament.
In the absence of American great who has 23 Grand Slam titles on her CV, and the headline-grabbing Sharapova, it's the opportunity for others to shine.
"Of course, it's different if Serena is not here. Everything is possible, in two weeks especially," world No 1 Kerber said. "There are so many good players right now, they can win the big tournaments."
Ostapenko, 20, shot up to 13th in the world from 47th after coming from a set and 3-0 down to defeat Simona Halep in the Roland Garros final. Now she has to prove that stunning success was more than a flash in the pan.
While Ostapenko, who faces Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the first round, arrived in London on a wave of post-Paris euphoria, second seed Halep is still struggling to come to terms with her failure to win her first Grand Slam.
The 25-year-old Romanian, who has never been past the semi-finals at Wimbledon, opens her campaign against Marina Erakovic.
Kerber, who starts against Irina Falconi, needs to improve dramatically after making unwanted history when her defeat against Ekaterina Makarova made her the first top-ranked woman in the Open era to fall in the opening round at Roland Garros.
If Kvitova gets her hands on the Venus Rosewater Dish for a third time, it would complete a fairytale comeback for the Czech following the horrific hand injury she sustained while being attacked by a knife-wielding burglar in her home in December.
Kvitova, the Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, was out of action for six months, but she returned at the French Open before winning the Birmingham title on grass last week.
"I've been through a very difficult time in my life. Winning in Birmingham gives me some extra confidence that I am still able to fight," said Kvitova, who meets Johanna Larsson in the first round.
Five-time Wimbledon winner Venus Williams, aged 37, will be another sentimental favourite.
Former world number one Azarenka is back in action after taking a year off to become a mother. "My life has taken a 180-degree turn but I have not lost my competitive spirit," Azarenka said.
(With AFP inputs)