The European claycourt swing of 2021 officially begins with the Sardegna Open in Cagliari, Italy on 5 April. The Andalucia Open, which is being played in Marbella, is also scheduled to start on the same day.
This is the second edition of the Sardegna Open, with the first one being played in October last year. This was one of the tournaments specially floated to make up for the cancelation of several tour events due to COVID-19.
The top four seeds have all received a bye in their opening round. On that note, here's a closer look at the draw:
Top half: Dan Evans hoping to improve his record on clay, Lorenzo Musetti looking for a deep run at home
Seeded players:  Dan Evans,  Nikoloz Basilashvili,  Jan-Lennard Struff, and  John Millman
Expected semifinal: Dan Evans vs Nikoloz Basilashvili
Dark horse: Lorenzo Musetti
Analysis: Top seed Dan Evans has been handed a very tricky opener, as he can potentially cross swords against Lorenzo Musetti in the second round.
Evans has lost his last five matches on clay, with the barren run starting in May 2019. The Brit had defeated Dusan Lajovic back then, in the second round of qualifying at the Rome Masters.
Interestingly, Evans’ last main-draw win on the surface came even further back - in 2017, when he defeated Mischa Zverev in Barcelona.
On the other hand, Lorenzo Musetti is in sublime form, having reached the semis in Acapulco recently. The Italian also comes into this event with plenty of match practice on clay, having taken part in a string of claycourt Challenger events earlier in the year.
But first, Musetti will have to overcome the challenge of Dennis Novak in the first round.
Defending champion Laslo Djere opens his campaign with a first-round match against Federico Gaio. Djere has been in decent touch on clay in 2021, with two quarterfinal appearances (Chile and Argentina).
The second-round opponent for the Serb would be either Federico Coria or John Millman. Coria made the semifinals of the Cordoba Open in February, while Millman last played on clay at the 2020 French Open.
Millman’s form this year has been pretty underwhelming too. The Australian has just one win on tour (against Michail Pervolarakis at the ATP Cup) against six defeats, including five in a row.
Nikoloz Basilashvili meanwhile has received a bye in the opening round, and his section of the draw is filled with qualifiers who are yet to be placed.
The Georgian is currently on a four-match claycourt losing streak, having lost every match he played on the surface in 2020. However, Basiliashvili has strong credentials on the surface, having won the Hamburg Open in both 2018 and 2019.
Jan-Lennard Struff is the last seeded player in the top half. The German will begin his campaign against Joao Sousa in the first round.
Semifinal prediction: Lorenzo Musetti vs Nikoloz Basilashvili
Bottom half: Taylor Fitz leads the way, Gilles Simon returns
Seeded players:  Taylor Fritz,  Lorenzo Sonego,  Guido Pella and  Tommy Paul
Expected semifinal: Taylor Fritz vs Lorenzo Sonego
Dark horse: Marco Cecchinato
Analysis: Taylor Fritz's participation in this event comes as a surprise given his long-standing claycourt struggles. That said, the Sardegna Open could certainly serve as a good preparatory tournament for the American, who is looking to improve his game on the surface.
Fritz has received a bye in the first round by virtue of his seeding. And in the second round, he has been drawn to face one of Jiri Vesely or Andrej Martin.
Martin is the more accomplished claycourt campaigner of the two, with 27 Challenger level finals to his name. While the Slovak hasn’t been in the best of form recently, he certainly has more match practice than Vesely on clay in 2021.
Seventh seed Guido Pella, who has played only thrice this year, begins his Sardegna Open campaign against Egor Gerasimov. This promises to be a close contest between two closely-matched players, but Pella might have a slight edge given his claycourt credentials.
Frtiz would be fairly confident of getting past Vesely or Martin. He also boasts of a positive head-to-head record against Guido Pella, including a win over him on clay.
Home hope Lorenzo Sonego, meanwhile, will face Gilles Simon or Stefano Travaglia in the second round after receiving a bye in the first.
Simon will be playing for the first time since a self-imposed exile after his early defeat at the Montpellier Open. The 36-year-old is as experienced a player as you can get on clay, but Stefano Travaglia is no pushover either.
Simon vs Travaglia could well go the distance, where the Frenchman's endurance and tactical acumen might come in handy.
Last year’s runner-up and former French Open semifinalist Marco Cecchinato will lock horns against Thomas Fabbiano in the first round. Even though Fabbiano is a solid claycourter, Cecchinato's experience is likely to see him through this fixture.
Should Cecchinato make it to the second round, he will face one of Tommy Paul or Yannick Hanfmann. That match, if it happens, will likely be decided by the narrowest of margins, given that both players are quite proficient on this surface.
Semifinal prediction: Marco Cecchinato vs Taylor Fritz
Lorenzo Musetti vs Marco Cecchinato