A new color, and with it a new mood, is spreading across the tennis calendar.
The vivid indigo and acid brights of the North American Masters are giving way to the burnished orange and subtle turquoise of the Mediterranean.
Between now and the end of May, the men’s tour will settle into the welcome embrace of the terracotta dust that will become their home for eight unbroken weeks, for April and May provide the longest, unbroken season on a single surface through the tennis year. From here on, it’s clay all the way to the French Open.
And from the splendid environs of Monte Carlo until Paris, the tour enjoys a constancy and a calm that comes from living within a single continent: few time zones to cross, steady body clocks, regular sleep patterns. It must feel like sinking into a warm pool at the end of a marathon through the desert.
Except that…this is the season most rich in points, the season where there is much to be gained but much to be lost. It is the only season that features three Masters in the space of a month, and those Masters are sandwiched between the double-headed rigors of Indian Wells and Miami at the start of April and the second Major of the year that fills the end of May.
So this seemingly benign circle of gold that takes in exotic Casablanca, skirts the Riviera and stops off for some culture at a few of Europe's loveliest cities, can have a sting in the tail.
And nowhere looks more benign than the golden terraces set on slopes of palm trees and switch-back roads, fringed by the palest of sand and most azure of lapping waves. Is there, indeed, a more stunning location for a tennis tournament in the world?
It’s a place where visitors can dive in and soak up the atmosphere, where there is a sensuality to the warmth, the burnt umber roof lines and the inky blue depths of the Med as it stretches towards a hazy horizon.
It even has its own particular soundtrack, quite different from the energy that overflows from the Miami or the Acapulco crowds. Here the buzz of networking accompanies the murmur of the fans’ appreciation, and cheerful gossip drops into hushed attention as play gets under way.