A shattered Ajla Tomljanovic believes she was a genuine Australian Open contender but is now uncertain how long she will be sidelined by the knee injury that forced her out of her home slam.
The Australian women's No.1 on Saturday fought back tears after she withdrew from her home slam, saying she "ran out of time" to recover enough to perform at Melbourne Park.
The ongoing injury had previously prompted her United Cup withdrawal, causing her to drop to world No.35 and cruelly denying her an Open seeding.
The 29-year-old had high hopes on home soil after her brilliant breakthrough 2022 and was Australia's best women's prospect after reigning champion Ash Barty retired.
In 2022 Tomljanovic became the first Australian woman since former world No.1 Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1979 to reach the quarter-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open, where she famously ended Serena Williams' career, in a calendar year.
"If you ask me, this is probably the worst timing ever," Tomljanovic told reporters.
"I'm sure I would have found and said that even if it happened in six months, it would have been the worst thing ever.
"Yeah, if I'm taking a 15-second pity party, this shouldn't have happened now.
"It's the time when I'm feeling my best self in every way, coming into a slam truly feeling like I deserve to be even a contender. I mean, I feel that way. I'm not coming out here and faking that.
"So in a way, like, am I going to have to start from scratch? Probably not.
"It feels a little unfair, but life's unfair. Part of our job, injuries will happen."
Tomljanovic said no particular incident had caused her injury.
She was uncertain whether her big 2022 had contributed to it but was adamant she "would never take that year back".
Tomljanovic wouldn't be drawn on what her exact injury was or how long she would be sidelined for.
"Honestly, I wish I could tell you," she said.
"My knees have been good in my career, but I have had niggles here and there. Who doesn't?
"But then in December, it just flared up more than I liked. Got a little worried. I thought I would have taken care of it by now. But that wasn't the case.
"I don't really know moving forward what I'm going to do. I think I'm going to have to re-evaluate and get more opinions on it.
"But, yeah, I mean, this is the worst thing that really could have happened this year, and it did. Now I can just kind of take a moment and see where I go."
Surgery is a possibility, though Tomljanovic, who has previously dealt with shoulder and hip injuries, hoped to explore "conservative" treatment options first.
Australia has only five women, none inside the top 100, left in the draw: Jaimee Fourlis, Olivia Gadecki, Storm Hunter and Talia Gibson and late addition Kimberly Birrel.