Countdown to the Australian Open

2005 just ended and the 2006 season already is under way. Joel Drucker looks at the top five story lines.

Updated: January 13, 2006, 6:08 PM ET
By Joel Drucker | Special to ESPN.com
Serena Williams
Sean Garnsworthy/Getty ImagesAfter winning the Australian Open last year, Serena Williams was winless the rest of 2005.
Despite having one of the shortest offseasons in sports (just four to six weeks), pro tennis players are always primed for the year's first big event, the Australian Open. Jolly fans, hot weather, cold Foster's. Everybody loves Oz.

But there's a downside Down Under. Thanks to the long, chaotic tennis calendar, results from Australia rarely matter as the year unfolds. If tennis' four Grand Slams were the Beatles, then the Australian would be Ringo: beloved, charming, a vital mate -- and short on enduring resonance.

Last year's champs, Marat Safin and Serena Williams, didn't win again in 2005, falling out of the top 10 by year's end. But as '94 Open finalist Todd Martin says, "Australia's a no-lose. Do poorly and you can write it off. Do well and you're off to a good start going into the thick of the year."