WHEN Serena Williams announced seven months ago she was pregnant with her first child, the women’s Tour braced itself for a void at the top of the game. But though there may be no dominant figure in the sport right now, her absence means an opportunity for any one of 10 to 15 players to take a Grand Slam title.

That number includes Britain’s Johanna Konta, a semi-finalist in Melbourne two years ago, a quarter-finalist last year and a woman firmly ensconced in the world’s top 10.

With Andy Murray recovering from hip surgery, Konta leads Britain’s hopes of achieving anything substantial from this fortnight.

“I think it’s sad not to have him here,” Konta said. “It’s nice to see he had such a positive message after he went in for his surgery. If anybody is going to be back at the top of their game, it’s going to be him. His drive and passion for this sport are second to none. I like to think he’ll be back, while I’m shouldering the burden.

“I’m here to do the best I can with the challenge that I’m faced with. Where it gets me is where it gets me. Obviously, it would be nice to be here two weeks later, chatting to you all. I will be doing my best to be in that position.”

Konta goes into the tournament having shaken off a sore hip herself in the warm-up event in Brisbane, an injury she first feared might be more serious than it turned out to be.

“My initial thought was…oh no, that doesn’t feel too good. Then you do have a bit of panic and think what does this mean, oh crap, what is this?” she said. “[But] it was more a spasm than anything, so that was very lucky. Since then it’s settled down nicely. I am generally in good shape, I’ve been working my body to the max to try and withstand as many matches as possible.”

The left-foot injury that affected Konta in the second half of 2017 – a year when she won her first big title in Miami and reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon – is still a concern.

“It’s not 100 per cent resolved, but it’s resolved enough where it’s not giving me the large amounts of pain that I had before,” she said, confirming that she irritated the sural nerve last February. “It’s definitely at bay and I’m managing it well.”

Konta’s new coach, Michael Joyce, believes his new charge is among those in with a realistic shot at the title, but Konta herself knows it won’t be easy.

“It is open in the sense there’s so many great players,” she said. “The depth in women’s tennis, I really do believe in the last few years, has got so strong. You just see it in every round, in tournaments, in slams. There are so many massive first rounds, tough second rounds. There’s no straight sailing to the quarters or semis any more. It doesn’t exist.”

World No 1 Simona Halep, meanwhile, heads the field, still chasing her first Grand Slam title, having gone so close to victory at the French Open last summer.

Five other women – Caroline Wozniacki, Elina Svitolina, Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza, Ostapenko and Karolina Pliskova – could be No 1 at the end of the fortnight.

Last year’s runner-up, Venus Williams, faces a tough test in round one against a resurgent Belinda Bencic, while Maria Sharapova, two years after she failed a drugs test for Meldonium, is also gunning for the title.

Six years after she last held the No 1 ranking, Wozniacki has a good draw as she too chases a first Grand Slam win, having won the season-ending WTA Finals in November.

“It is something that would always be special and really awesome,” she said. “At the same time, I’m just doing what I can do. I’m just playing here right now. That’s what I’m focusing on. Everything else will kind of fall into place. If I do it, that would be amazing. If I don’t, it’s still great.”