Melbourne, Jan 12 (AFP) Tennis fans could hardly haveguessed that when Serena Williams cut her foot in a Munichrestaurant last August, the race for the 2011 Australian Openwould be thrown wide open.
Serena has towered over the Australian Open in recenttimes, winning four of the past six titles, including the lasttwo in a row.
But complications to her foot injury have meant Serenawill not be making the trip to Melbourne this year and thetask of picking a potential winner has suddenly become muchtougher.
The early favourite is US Open champion Kim Clijsters,who arrived in Australia last week with her family in tow andbrimming with confidence.
The Belgian world number three underlined her credentialswhen she beat the top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the finalof the year-end championships in Doha in November.
"I kind of wished that the season wasn''t over yet, afterthe championships last year, because I was hitting the ball sowell," Clijsters said.
"But I feel good (again now). I feel like I''m hitting theball well and, injury-wise, there''s no problems and that''sobviously a big key here in Australia -- being fit enough toplay these matches."
Clijsters showed she had not lost any of her 2010 formwhen she downed Wozniacki in an exhibition in Thailand at thestart of the year.
The 27-year-old Belgian will also be desperate to atonefor 2010, when she entered the Australian Open as one of thehot favourites but crashed out in the third round to NadiaPetrova 6-0, 6-1 in one of the most-lopsided matches of thetournament.
Denmark''s Wozniacki ended the year as the women''s worldnumber one, reaching the peak of the game without having won aGrand Slam.
The 20-year-old Dane is the youngest year-end number onesince Martina Hingis in 2000, but this week''s second-roundSydney International loss has not helped convince critics sheis worthy of the top ranking. (MORE) AFP SNK