By Chris Skelton
On New Year’s Eve, three Grand Slam tournament winners and the ATP world No.1 take centre stage at Hyundai Hopman Cup 2013.
Day session, 10 am:  Serbia v  Italy
Match 1: Ana Ivanovic (SRB) v Francesca Schiavone (ITA)
Offering a fascinating contrast of styles is the meeting between fellow Roland Garros champions – the glamorous Serb and the determined Italian. Adhering to the standard contemporary model of the WTA baseliner, Ivanovic has built her success on heavy first strikes from her serve and forehand. Meanwhile, Schiavone has survived by adapting vintage strokes like backhand slices, drop shots, and chipped net approaches to the demands of the modern game. Although Ivanovic has not ascended the heights that she reached in 2008 since that breakthrough, she has settled into a steady top-20 berth over the past two years and justifiably has targeted a rise into the top 10 among her goals for 2013. In the top 10 herself not long ago, Schiavone saved her most memorable tennis for late in her career with a series of exploits in 2010–11, but her results dwindled last year. Much more than a typical Italian clay specialist, she has extended her success to hard courts as well. In a close match, Schiavone might hold the mental edge with her superior fortitude under pressure, but Ivanovic has won all four of their previous meetings with increasing ease.
Match 2: Novak Djokovic v Andreas Seppi (ITA)
Direct from winning an exhibition in Abu Dhabi, Djokovic sets his sights on a trophy that narrowly eluded him in 2011, when Ivanovic’s injury forced Serbia to withdraw from the final. That year, he used his strong performance at this event to vault into his second title at the Australian Open and one of the most impressive seasons ever recorded by any player. At first glance, one would not expect this Italian clay specialist to delay Djokovic for long en route to a 1-0 start in Perth. Undefeated in their nine previous meetings, the world No.1 has faced Seppi on a hard court only once in the past four years, winning in straight sets last summer at Cincinnati. The underdog might gain a ray of hope from his near-upset over the Serb at Roland Garros, when he won the first two sets before dropping the next three. But, while Seppi favors clay, Djokovic shines most brightly on an outdoor hard court like the surface in Perth. His balanced blend of offense and defense should allow him to outmaneuver Seppi for the 10th straight time.
Match 3: Serbia v Italy mixed doubles
The only experienced doubles player of the four, Schiavone could lift Italy with her smart sense of the court’s geometry and well-honed craft at the net. As he did two years ago, Djokovic may focus mostly on amusing the crowd with his antics. Fans can expect plenty of spontaneous entertainment to close this session, appropriate for the festivities of a New Year’s Eve.
* Note: there is no night session on 31 December and no day session on 1 January. Play will resume on 1 January at 5:45 pm for the night session the United States and France.
Chris Skelton is a freelance tennis journalist, you can read more of his writing at sharapovanovic.com.