Novak Djokovic says he is fit to take his place in the Monte Carlo Masters on Wednesday, although he admits his participation is a "day-by-day" proposition.
Nevertheless, having mulled over the decision for three days, he is more likely to stop a passing ship than stop Rafael Nadal winning a ninth consecutive title here.
Initially, despite repeated requests, there was no statement from Djokovic on Tuesday, just the appearance of his name on the draw sheet, third on Court Central against Mikhael Youzhny, but in early evening he confirmed he would play.
"I have good news," he said in a video on Twitter. "I will be playing tomorrow in Monte Carlo, my first match. I'm very excited about it, to be honest, because in the last six, seven days I've been doing everything in my power, after the incident in the Davis Cup [in which he rolled an ankle while playing Sam Querrey], in order to recover. My ankle is in a state that is good enough for me to perform. Hopefully I can perform my best and win, and I can see how it goes day by day."
He was involved in a similar situation at Bercy in 2011, opting to play with an injured shoulder just 10 days before the ATP World Tour Finals in London, pulling out after beating Victor Troicki in the third round then collecting a $2m bonus for appearing in eight Masters tournaments as world No1 that year. At the start of the European clay season no such incentive applies here, apart from testing his body in competition and pleasing his well-heeled hosts.
Nevertheless, this has the feel of a glorified "net" – not at all displeasing for patrons sunning tanned and cossetted bodies in mid-afternoon, champagne in hand, in the relaxed surroundings of the clubhouse balcony overlooking the prettiest seascape in tennis – and gives the Russian, who gave up only four games beating Daniel Gimeno-Traver on Monday, a fair shout of an upset.
The task of stopping Nadal resides on the other side of the draw and is more realistically in the scope of Andy Murray in the semi-final on Saturday – if they win their opening matches on Wednesday against opponents who would regard victory as career-changing (Edouard Roger-Vasselin and the rising Australian Marinko Matesovic respectively) – and go through in a draw that looks trickier for the Scot than the Spaniard.
Nadal, of course, has his own injury issues. He ignored with impatience bordering on tetchiness all inquiries about the state of his knees on Monday, and sounded ominously determined in the welcoming embrace of the warm Mediterranean after an encouraging return to tennis on the yielding clay of South American and the hard courts of Indian Wells, where he won 17 of 18 matches after seven months away.
Getting in the Spaniard's way when he is in such a mood can injure your pride – which is exactly where Murray should be on Saturday. First he must account for the French qualifier Roger-Vasselin, ranked 81 in the world and keener on grass than clay (a legacy of long childhood holidays spent at his grandmother's house in London; his father, Christophe, a very good player in the 80s, lived in the UK until he was 15). They play after Djokovic, when the shadows will lengthen.
Thereafter, probably, come Stanislas Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who both won handily on Tuesday. Wawrinka was uniformly impressive, beating Denis Istomin 6-3, 7-5 while Tsonga laboured before defeating Nikolay Davydenko 7-6 (7-3), 6-2.
Tsonga, the No6 seed, recovered from a sluggish start in his first match on clay against the Russian, and plays the winner of Jürgen Melzer and Nicolas Almagro in the third round on Thursday. "I didn't play a huge match," Tsonga conceded. "I can do better – but I'm happy I won because he can be a very dangerous player. He's proven it in the past."
The past, as someone said, is another country and for a player who in moments of inspiration looked every inch the world No3 he once was before imploding in a rash of shanks and wild swings, it is now another galaxy. He was a shadow of the player who lost to Nadal in the semi-final here five years ago.
On Djokovic's side of the draw, Juan Martín del Potro, granted a late wild card, looked gone in a whirlwind first set against the unpredictable Alexandr Dolgopolov before recovering to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-3. Grigor Dimitrov, a more reliable prodigy, looked good hustling the No8 seed Janko Tipsarevic out of the tournament 7-6 (7-3), 6-1.
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