Daniel Evans and Kyle Edmund go head-to-head today in an all-British opening round battle at the Monte Carlo Masters.
Currently separated by just three positions on the world rankings, with Evans at 44, and Edmund at 47, there is huge national pride at stake as both players scrap for the right to be British number two behind Andy Murray.
Evans and Edmund were both part of the British team that lost to France in the Davis Cup quarter finals in Rouen, but they must now switch to opposite corners - with the winner advancing to take on the might of Rafael Nadal in the second round.
That Davis Cup tie against France provided early clay court practice for the Brits, particularly for someone like Evans, who had not played a match on clay for the best part of three years. Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old looked decidedly out of his depths on the surface in his first singles match against Jeremy Chardy. Evans later scored a 6-2 6-1 victory over Julian Benneteau, but that was in a dead rubber.
Before that Davis Cup weekend, his last match on clay was in 2014, when he was handily beaten by Gastao Elias in the French Open qualifiers.
He has had a much better time on hard courts, opening the season with a trip to his first career final in Sydney. That was followed by his beat Grand Slam run, reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open after marquee victories over Marin Cilic and Bernard Tomic. Evans took the opening set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in that Round of 16 tie, but he ultimately fell to the Frenchman in four sets.
That run in Melbourne took him inside the top 50 for the first time in his career, and he has not left that bracket since then, despite a couple of indifferent results on the North American hard courts.
The Brit fell in the second round of both Dubai and Indian Wells to Gael Monfils and Kei Nishikori respectively (admittedly, no shame in those), but he would have been extremely disappointed with an opening round loss to American rookie, Ernesto Escobedo in Miami.
Unlike Evans, Edmund has featured on clay a lot more in the last couple of years, and he has produced some eye-catching results too. He has reached the second round at Roland Garros for two consecutive seasons. He defeated Nikoloz Basilashvili in the opening round last year, before falling to John Isner in Round 2. Perhaps more impressive was his run in 2015, when he came through three rounds of qualifying, defeated Stephan Robert in the opening round, before pulling out injured from his second round tie against Nick Kyrgios. Add to that, he also reached the second rounds in Estoril and Nice last season.
Apart from his encouraging form at Roland Garros, Evans has picked up a Challenger title on clay in each of the last two seasons. He won in Rome last year, while he was victorious in Buenos Aires in 2015 (took down Argentine clay head Carlos Berlocq 6-0 6-4 in the final). He has proven to be quite decent on the surface. Even in his live Davis Cup tie against Lucas Pouille, Edmund had real chances to make the contest more competitive, but he could not quite seize the vital moments.
Edmund has been steady this season, with quarter finals in Brisbane and Delray Beach to show for his efforts. No shame in losing to Stan Wawrinka in Sydney, while Milos Raonic was his conqueror at Delray Beach. There have been the disappointing opening round losses, like against Matthew Barton in Sydney, and Jared Donaldson in Miami, but it has generally been a progressive start to the year for the 22-year-old, as reflected in his current position in the top 50.
This will be the second career meeting between Edmund and Evans, and first on the ATP Tour, as their only previous encounter was at the Dallas Challenger in 2016. Edmund won 6-3 6-2.
Even though he is the younger player here, Edmund is the more accomplished player on clay, and he goes into Monday’s Monte Carlo meeting as the favourite to get another one over his compatriot.