HYUNDAI Hopman Cup No. 1 seeds Australia begin this year's tournament against a talented Romanian team on Saturday inside Perth's Burswood Dome.
Australia's Samantha Stosur and Lleyton Hewitt come into the Cup teaming for the first time, but with Stosur ranked 13 in the world and with 22 doubles titles to her credit and Hewitt ranked 22 with Grand Slam singles and doubles titles, they were deemed the top seeds this year.
Their first-up test is Romania's Sorana Cirstea and Victor Hanescu, and they will be no pushovers. Cirstea is a rising star at 19 years of age and rose to as high as 23 in the world during 2009, while Hanescu is an ATP Tour veteran and spent most of last year inside the world's top 30.
This year's Cup will begin with Stosur taking on Cirstea for the third time of their careers on Saturday morning at 10am.
The pair met twice in 2009 with the Australian victorious on both occasions. The first came in the French Open when Stosur triumphed 6-1, 6-3 in the quarter finals in what was a Grand Slam best effort by both.
They again met in the semi-final on hardcourt in the US summer and again Stosur won in straight-sets, 6-3, 6-2.
Stosur knows that the 19-year-old Romanian has plenty of talent, though, and will provide for a tough contest.
"She hits the ball cleanly, nice and hard and flat, and has a really good forehand," Stosur said.
"We've played each other a couple of times last year, once on clay and once on hardcourt, and we're on hardcourt again so I have a bit of a feel of what to expect."
The men's singles will be just the second time that Hewitt and Hanescu have met, and the first time since the 2003 US Open. On that occasion, Hewitt prevailed in straight-sets 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, but Hanescu has the game to trouble the former world No. 1.
Hanescu is coming off his best year and stands at 1.98m, so will be a difficult opponent for Hewitt, but he knows that and just loves representing his country. He is impressed by the quality of the field this year as well.
"There's nothing better than playing for Australia anywhere, and any time I get to play for my country is fantastic. I've had some great results in Davis Cup, at the Olympics and here at the Hopman Cup," Hewitt said.
"To have guys like Murray, Kohlschreiber, Robredo and John Isner, it's a good mixture of different players for me to play against. The three guys I've got in my group are totally different players so I'm going to have to adjust my game and that won't be easy every second day."
The mixed doubles will also be interesting with all four players having some good doubles results over their careers.
Stosur has won 22 titles in total including the French Open (2006) and US Open (2005), and Hewitt also won the 2000 US Open with Max Mirnyi. Cirstea won two titles on the WTA Tour in doubles in 2008 and Hanescu also earned a doubles title win during 2008.
As the host-nation of the Hopman Cup, Australia has competed at all 21 tournaments in Perth but has only won once when Jelena Dokic and Mark Philippoussis triumphed in 1999. There have been three other Final appearances that have caused mixed results.
At the very first Hopman Cup, Hana Mandlikova and this year's VIP Guest Pat Cash lost the Final to Czechoslovakia.
Then when Hewitt teamed with Alicia Molik they qualified for the Final twice only to be beaten by Serena Williams and James Blake in 2003 and then were forced to pull out due to a Molik foot injury the next year after qualifying for the Final. That was after they had won their first two Ties in 2002 as well before Hewitt fell ill with chicken pox.
Luck hasn’t always been on Australia's side at the Hyundai Hopman Cup, but both Stosur and Hewitt arrive this year at the top of their games after terrific 2009 years. They also play well inside the Burswood Dome.
Hewitt has played four times previously to earn himself a 9-3 win-loss record in singles and 5-4 in the mixed doubles, which wasn’t helped by losing all three mixed encounters last year with Casey Dellacqua in the Match Tie-break.
Stosur played just the once in 2006 when she won all three of her singles matches, but lost her partner when Wayne Arthurs was injured.
Romania is only playing the Hopman Cup for the third time. The first was 1997 when Irina Spirlea and Adrian Voinea teamed to win a Tie over Germany, but lose to Switzerland and South Africa. Spirlea returned in 1998 with Dinu Pescariu but lost the playoff to the Slovak Republic's Karina Habsudova and Karol Kucera.