After sitting out last year's Open 13 Provence tournament, Stan Wawrinka is back. Following major surgery to his left knee, he is hoping to ease into things with a match against Belarusian Ilya Ivashka. Thursday also sees the return of another heavyweight: Tomas Berdych, who faces Italy's Stefano Travaglia.
Wawrinka had a difficult year in 2017, cut short by an injury at Wimbledon and two left knee operations. As a result, all eyes were on him when he made his comeback at the Australian Open. His first appearance at the Open 13 Provence tournament on Thursday is just as eagerly anticipated. Since the start of the season, the man with the fabulous one-handed backhand has been honing his game - with a second-round exit in Melbourne, a quarter-final in Sofia and a first-round loss in Rotterdam last week.
The Swiss player has fielded many questions about his fitness: whether Marseille will be the stage for his triumphant return; whether he is ready to use the skills that made him world no.3 not so long ago (and one of the only players to challenge the Big Four in recent years). He has a good record at the tournament, making the quarter-finals in 2015 and 2016. In 2018, he would like to add the title to his already impressive collection - but also build up his confidence. "My biggest challenge is accepting my current level," he said. "When I see how far I am from where I want to be, it's discouraging. However, I'm making progress. I'm far from the level I want to be at. But I'm very happy to be back playing tournaments, and back here in Marseille."
Berdych haunted by 2013
Berdych also had ups and downs at Rotterdam. The Czech player, who has been a tour fixture for the past 10 years, withdrew from his quarter-final match against David Goffin due to illness. After a few days' rest, he arrived in Marseille in visibly improved shape, with the goal of taking the Open 13 Provence title. He has been close before - he made the semi-final in 2016 and the final in 2013. During the final, he even had a match point opportunity over opponent Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, which was ultimately unsuccessful and resulted in a one-point loss.
Both Wawrinka and Berdych had byes in the first round. In the second, they will both face qualifiers: Ilya Ivashka and Stefano Travaglia respectively. They should be fairly optimistic about their chances - shouldn't they?