Monte Carlo is famous for a lot more than being the first step on the tennis road to Paris but, for Andy Murray, the clay-court season begins tomorrow when he plays his second-round match against Viktor Troicki in the principality.
The Scot arrived here on Wednesday and, along with creating a rather severe haircut, he has been slaving away on the clay, trying to reacquaint himself with the unique movements required to move on the surface.
Last year, he broke out of a two-month slump to reach the semi-finals and pushed Rafa Nadal to a deciding third set, prompting the best clay-court season of his career to date.
This time, he comes into the event having reached the final in Miami last time out but, though his confidence is much higher than it was 12 months ago, he knows it will take time for him to hit top form on the slow surface.
"The more matches you can get here and improve your game, the better," he said. "But it is difficult because you can come up against tough, tough players right off the bat and it takes me a little while before I start feeling comfortable on the clay."
Murray has beaten Troicki in each of their four matches but the last time they met, in the fourth round of the French Open last summer, was one of the toughest and most challenging encounters that the Scot had all year, having turned his ankle in the previous round against Michael Berrer of Germany.
"I was down two sets to love, it was starting to get a little bit dark and I think he started to get a little bit nervous," Murray said. "I managed to get myself back into the match and then the next day [after it was held overnight at two sets apiece], it was a one-set shootout [Murray trailed 5-2 but came back to win it 7-5]. It was a tough match; mentally quite stressful."
Murray will take nothing for granted against Troicki, ranked No.30, but at least he is fully fit, which is more than can be said for Nadal, who yesterday admitted he was "a little scared" about how his left knee will hold up.
The Spaniard, who is chasing a record eighth successive title here, pulled out of his semi-final against Murray in Miami last month because of a left knee injury that required two sets of treatment with his personal doctor in Barcelona, including injections.
"I did this treatment for this new injury before Indian Wells and it worked well the first couple of days but after it didn't work well, so I am a little bit scared," he said. "I need time, to spend hours on court, play matches. I started to practise only four days ago so it's not enough."
Murray will partner his brother Jamie in the doubles today against Christopher Kas of Germany and Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico.
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, the world No.1, will play his first match tomorrow.
Bernard Tomic, who lost to Djokovic in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last year, unleashed his new-found clay court tactics yesterday as he chalked up his first win on the surface. The 19-year-old, tipped to join Australia's long line of grand slam champions, beat Uzbekistan's Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-3 to end his barren run.
"A lot of clay court players play behind the line. But I think my tennis is something different. If I play my tennis, they struggle with my game even on clay," said Tomic whp will play Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov in round two.