After weeks of hardcourt play, the ATP tour will now travel to Marbella, Spain to mark the beginning of this year's European claycourt swing. Veterans Pablo Carreno Busta and Fabio Fognini will headline the field at the surprisingly packed 250-level event.
Carreno Busta returns to action for the first time since losing his opening-round match at the 2021 Dubai Open. The Spaniard has been suffering from physical issues ever since this year's Australian Open, where he was forced to retire against Grigor Dimitrov in the third round.
Fognini, meanwhile, would be hoping to get his season back on track after some disastrous results over the last few weeks. The mercurial Italian has lost three of his last four matches on the tour, and will be relieved to get back to his favorite surface.
Carreno Busta and Fognini will be joined by claycourt specialists Albert Ramos Vinolas, Casper Ruud and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, as well as teen prodigies like Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune. Here's a look at how the men's singles draw is likely to unfold:
Top half: Holger Rune looks to make a mark amid a sea of veterans
Top seeded players:  Pablo Carreno Busta,  Albert Ramos-Vinolas,  Kwon Soon-woo,  Federico Delbonis
Expected semifinal: Pablo Carreno Busta vs Albert Ramos-Vinolas
Dark horse: Holger Rune
Pablo Carreno Busta has been enjoying a second wind in his career. He made a comeback to the top 20 last year on the back of some spectacular results at the Slams.
Having received a first-round bye, Carreno Busta will likely have an easy opener as he is slated to face a qualifier. The going gets tougher for the World No. 15 from there though, as he could face either Cordoba Open champion Juan Manuel Cerundolo or Denmark's teen phenom Holger Rune.
Rune, aged just 17, is ranked outside the top 300 right now, but that is not a true indication of his already formidable game. In his second career ATP level event (at Santiago), Rune not only qualified for the main draw but also defeated World No. 29 Benoit Paire on his way to the quarterfinals.
If Carreno Busta succeeds in making the semifinals, he will most likely face Albert Ramos-Vinolas - a player who has done very well at mid-tier claycourt events for around a decade. This match-up could turn out to be tricky for Carreno Busta, considering he doesn't have much match practice right now.
Ramos-Vinolas himself could face France's Lucas Pouille in his opener. Pouille underwent elbow surgery in 2020, and he made his comeback to the tour earlier this year.
If Ramos-Vinolas can overcome Pouille's challenge, he will likely face one of Federico Delbonis or Juan Ignacio Londero in the quarterfinals.
Predicted semifinal: [WC] Holger Rune vs  Albert Ramos-Vinolas
Bottom half: Fabio Fognini looking to rebound from a major slump
Expected semifinal: Fabio Fognini vs Casper Ruud
Dark horse: Carlos Alcaraz
Second seed Fabio Fognini is one of the favorites to reign supreme on the claycourts of Marbella. The Italian has proven claycourt credentials, having previously won a Masters 1000 title and seven other titles on the surface.
That said, Fognini might find it tough to navigate past the sea of tough opponents in his half. Having received a first-round bye, the 33-year-old will most play the tricky Jaume Munar in the second round and fifth seed Alejandro Davidovich Fokina in the quarterfinals.
If Fognini can weather the early storm in Marbella, he might have to stare down third seed Casper Ruud in the semifinals.
Ruud, famous for his Rafael Nadal-like forehand, will open his campaign against either Gianluca Mager or Mikhail Kukushkin. The World No. 25 could then face 18-year-old prodigy Carlos Alcaraz in the quarterfinals, which would make for a riveting encounter if it happens.
Alcaraz, who has been working under former World No. 1 Juan Carlos Ferrero, is one of the most dangerous floaters in the Marbella draw. The Spaniard had won his first claycourt match at the bare age of 16, when he defeated Ramos-Vinolas at the 2020 Rio Open.
Alcaraz has continued to impress one year later, having been the youngest competitor in the main draw of this year's Australian Open.
Predicted semifinal:  Casper Ruud vs  Alejandro Davidovich Fokina
Albert Ramos-Vinolas vs Casper Ruud