Continental tennis clubs are echoing to the sound of players bashing the soles of their shoes with their rackets. And Spanish washing machines are going into overdrive as tennis whites get stained pink.
It can mean only one thing: the European clay court season has started.
So who’s most likely to shine this year? Aside from the usual suspects, here are some players and some scenarios to look out for:
On the ATP tour, all the winners will be Continental Europeans. Last year, only one non-European won on Europe’s clay – and that was Argentina’s Juan Monaco in Dusseldorf. Even on the WTA tour, aside from Serena Williams, all the winners were Europeans.
Fabio Fognini is hot. Buoyed by a superb Davis Cup run against Great Britain last week, and a win on clay this year in Chile and runner’s-up trophy in Argentina, he is playing the best tennis of his life. With hordes of Italian girls following him round southern Europe this spring, he will be even more confident than usual on clay. Unibet have him joint 11th favourite to win the French Open at 100.0.
Simona Halep and Dominika Cibulkova are going to raise eyebrows on clay this year. Both currently enjoying career highs, they have clay-court skills and the confidence of new top tenners. They are at 7.00 and 35.00 respectively to win the French Open.
Grigor Dimitrov is well capable of upsetting big guns on clay. Last year he took a set off Nadal in Monte Carlo and beat Djokovic in Madrid, both feats that certainly aren’t mean. He's 55.00 to win the French Open.
Don’t ignore Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard. She may be pretty but she can also be deadly. A great start to the year with a semi-final showing at the Australian Open, plus a semi-final last month on clay in Charleston, have set her up confidently for Europe’s clay. For French Open glory, she's 40.00.
Gael Monfils brilliantly saved France from defeat by Germany in the deciding fifth rubber at last week’s Davis Cup clash – a feat which has totally turned round his previously ebbing confidence. If he can reign in the flashy tennis and concentrate on winning, then he will have a good tilt at the French Open, for which he's 100.0.
Sara Errani has the potential to do some serious damage at the French Open. She reached the semis last year, losing ignominiously to Serena Williams. And she reached the final in 2012, coming unstuck against Maria Sharapova. But if she can avoid those two big hitters, why not a stab at the title? Unibet have her eighth favourite at 30.00 to win overall.
There’s a certain Swiss chap who seems to be quietly creeping up the rankings. He’s currently No.4 in the world, the highest he’s been since June last year. He’s wielding a bigger racket, sporting a trophy coach, and he’s still under 35 years old. Roger Federer is fourth favourite to win the French Open at 15.00.
What about total outsiders? A few experienced pundits have been making impressive noises about two 20-year-olds – France’s Caroline Garcia who reached the third round in Miami and the semis in Acapulco, and Austria’s Dominic Thiem, who reached the third round in Indian Wells. Last year he excelled on clay, reaching the finals or better of no less than eight Challengers and Futures.