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Thursday July 18, 2024

Nadal to play Zverev, Swiatek faces qualifier at French Open

By Reuters
May 25, 2024
Spains Rafael Nadal during a practice session ahead of the French Open.— Reuters/file
Spain's Rafael Nadal during a practice session ahead of the French Open.— Reuters/file 

PARIS: Rafa Nadal was handed a tough start to what is expected to be his farewell to the French Open as the record 14-times champion was drawn against fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the first round.

Novak Djokovic will begin his quest for a 25th Grand Slam crown against local hope Pierre-Hugues Herbert, while top-ranked Iga Swiatek kicks off her French Open title defence against a qualifier, after the draw was made on Thursday. Unseeded Nadal, who missed his favourite Grand Slam tournament due to injury last year, has plummeted down the rankings during an extended spell on the sidelines and has said he expects to retire after this season.

The pairing drew an audible gasp in the room and the two will meet for the first time since their 2022 semi-final clash at Roland Garros which Nadal won after Zverev suffered an injury and retired.

“It’s coming a little early in the tournament surely,” former world number one and tournament director Amelie Mauresmo said about the Nadal-Zverev pairing. “This is good news for neither of them.” Should Nadal win the match, he could face 2021 US Open winner Daniil Medvedev in the quarter finals.

There were cheers from the audience when Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka was drawn against fellow three-time grand slam winner, Briton Andy Murray. “It’s a superb matchup,” Mauresmo, who used to coach Murray, said about the match with Wawrinka.

Djokovic has struggled in the first half of 2024 and is yet to win a title this year. The Serbian was knocked out of the Italian Open in the third round this month after suffering a freak head injury.

The world number one, who is competing in this week’s Geneva Open, will be looking to put that disappointment behind him and get his season back on track in Paris, where he could meet Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals in a rematch of last year’s final.

Two-times Grand Slam champion and last year’s losing semi-finalist Carlos Alcaraz begins against a qualifier, while newly-crowned Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner faces American Christopher Eubanks.

In the women’s draw, defending champion and world number one Swiatek is in a hot streak of form after winning both the Madrid Open and Italian Open, and is favourite to claim her fourth title at Roland Garros.

However, the Pole could face a number of tough opponents in her quarter-final, including four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, Miami Open winner Danielle Collins and Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova.

“This season has been has been really great already for me,” Swiatek said. “I know that I can adjust to any kind of conditions even in a short amount of time.” World number two Aryna Sabalenka meets Erika Andreeva while Elena Rybakina, who reached the semi-finals in Madrid but was forced to pull out of Rome due to illness, takes on Belgium’s Greet Minnen.