Hard to believe but the first Grand Slam of 2006 begins Monday (Sunday, 7 p.m. ET). Once again, there are a number of intriguing story lines when looking at first-round matches. Some players will be unhappy with their draw; others will be tested by unsung challengers.
Notable First-Round Matchups: Men
Nikolay Davydenko (5), Russia vs. Ivo Karlovic, Croatia
Davydenko made the quarterfinals at last year's Australian Open before losing to another hard server, Andy Roddick. Expect Karlovic to rack up his share of aces here. The Russian won their only meeting, 7-6, 6-3 last year on the hardcourt at Qatar last year.
David Ferrer (11), Spain vs. Florent Serra, France
Ferrer played David Nalbandian five tough sets in the first round of last year's Australian Open. Now he meets a talented Frenchman ranked 38th in the world. This could be a tough spot for the Spaniard.
Richard Gasquet (14), France vs. Tommy Haas, Germany
This is an interesting showdown of two former junior stars. Gasquet is 0-2 lifetime in singles at the Australian Open. Haas has made the semifinals of this tournament twice, so he is capable of big things. Haas also is coming off a victory against Roger Federer in an exhibition tuneup earlier this week.
Mario Ancic (18), Croatia vs. Agustin Calleri, Argentina
Ancic has been impressive in the warm-up tournament in Auckland. Calleri beat Max Mirnyi in five tough sets in the first round of last year's Australian Open, only to lose a five-setter to Thomas Johansson in round two.
Nicolas Kiefer (21), Germany vs. Paradorn Srichaphan, Thailand
Two players who will battle it out if this goes on, although Srichaphan pulled out of the Medibank International with a thigh strain. Hopefully this match happens and lives up to their last showdown -- Kiefer won 7-6, 7-6 in Indianapolis in 2004.
Sebastien Grosjean (25), France vs. Mark Philippoussis, Australia
We know who the fans will be rooting for. The Scud Stud is 3-2 lifetime vs. his French opponent, but Grosjean won their only prior meeting on hardcourts back in 2001. This could be one of the most interesting matches of the entire tournament.
Juan Ignacio Chela, Argentina vs. Andy Murray, Great Britain
Murray rose 449 spots in the rankings last season, settling in the top 70. Chela is 5-0 lifetime in first-round matches at the Australian Open.
Vince Spadea, United States vs. Fabrice Santoro, France
A battle of veterans: Spadea is 31, Santoro 33. Spadea has lost his last four first-round matches at the Australian Open so he'd like to snap that streak.
Xavier Malisse, Belgium vs. Mikhail Youzhny, Russia
This is a rematch of a great battle from last year's U. S. Open. Malisse won that meeting in five sets. Then again, Youzhny clobbered Malisse in the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Arnaud Clement, France vs. Paul-Henri Mathieu, France
Imagine if this match was at the French Open! Mathieu won a three-set battle against Clement at last year's TMS tournament in Montreal.
Notable First-Round Matchups: Women
Kim Clijsters (2), Belgium vs. Yoon Jeong Cho, Korea
Normally this would not make the list, but Clijsters is bothered by a hip injury that could knock her out of the tournament.
Mary Pierce (5), France vs. Nicole Pratt, Australia
Like the Spadea-Santoro match, this is a battle of older players. Pratt, who turned pro in 1992, is 32. Pierce, a finalist at the French and U.S. Open in 2005, turns 31 on Jan. 15. Remember, Pierce has been a pro since 1989. (Maybe this should be the "Turn Back the Clock" match!)
Patty Schnyder (7), Switzerland, vs. Eleni Daniilidou, Greece
Daniilidou must be wondering about this draw. In her last Grand Slam (2005 U.S. Open), she drew top-seed Maria Sharapova. What's up with drawing top-10 opponents! At Wimbledon, Daniilidou upset the No. 7 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne in the first round. The good news is the Greek player has made the third round or better in three of her four Australian Open appearances.
Serena Williams (13), United States vs. Na Li, China
Serena's Chinese opponent is 5-7 ¾ and made the third round of last year's Australian Open before being blown away by Sharapova. She is ranked 54th in the world, so this isn't a layup for the defending champion.
Elena Likhovtseva (18), Russia vs. Lisa Raymond, United States
Can Raymond summon up enough strength for another upset? Likhovtseva is 4-2 lifetime against the American, but the last meeting was back in 2001. Raymond made the third round last year as the 25th seed.
Jelena Jankovic (23), Serbia and Montenegro vs. Jill Craybas, United States
Craybas made Americans smile with a round of 16 appearance at Wimbledon last year. It will be tough to match that Down Under, though Craybas won their meeting at the 2004 Australian Open (8-6 in the third set).
Marion Bartoli (27), France vs. Amy Frazier, United States
The 33-year old Frazier is 1-1 lifetime against her French opponent. The American has won her last five first-round matches at the Australian Open. Frazier was the 21st seed last year, and advanced to the third round each of the last two campaigns Down Under.
Vera Zvonareva (30), Russia vs. Martina Hingis,
You knew the seeded players were concerned about getting Hingis early in the tournament. The three-time champion has made the finals in each of her last six trips to the Australian Open (1997-2002). Is the Swiss Miss fit and ready for this challenge? Zvonareva is coming off her worst season since 2001, with a 21-21 record.
Jelena Dokic, Serbia and Montenegro vs. Virginie Razzano, France
This is a showdown of two former prodigies. Dokic won the only prior meeting in Sarasota in 2002.
Shinobu Asagoe, Japan vs. Shahar Peer, Israel
Huh? Both are ranked in the top 50 (Asagoe 39th, Peer 46th), so this should be competitive.
Howie Schwab is coordinating producer for ESPN's studio production, and contributes first-round matches to watch for the four Grand Slams.