Top-heavy draw projects Djokovic-Nadal quarterfinal

May 22, 2022

With Carlos Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev also in the top half, can 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas capitalise on his softer side of the draw?

Stefano Tsitsipas
Stefano Tsitsipas

When Rafael Nadal slipped down to No. 5 in the seedings, you knew it was coming, didn't you? That's right, Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been drawn into the same quarter at Roland Garros, and, just to jam things up a little more, Carlos Alcaraz is in the same half with them. That puts all three of the men's favorites on one overloaded side, and gives the 64 players in the other half a clearer road to the final. For fans, it means the sparks may fly a little earlier than normal in Paris.

Here's a look ahead at what else happened when the men's draw was made last Thursday, and what it means for the two weeks of tennis ahead.

First Quarter

Nadal and Djokovic have been here before. In 2015, they landed in the same section, and ended up facing off in the quarterfinals. Djokovic handed Rafa one of his three career defeats - in 108 matches - at Roland Garros that day. This year, at least to start, Djokovic would seem to be the safer bet of the two again. While Nadal limped out of Rome with a bad foot, Djokovic won his first title of the season, and pronounced himself ready to defend his 2021 win in Paris. He'll start that defense against Yoshihito Nishioka, and if the seeds hold he'll face Jenson Brooksby and Diego Schwartzman in the third and fourth rounds.

As for Rafa, his foot issue makes him a day-to-day proposition for now; it seems as if it could flare up again at any moment. But he's there, he's practicing, and as long as he's healthy, he'll be the man to beat at Roland Garros. Nadal will start against Jordan Thompson; he could play Stan Wawrinka in the second round; and the other three seeds on his side are Botic van de Zandschulp, Reilly Opelka, and Félix Auger-Aliassime. There's also a chance he could face sometime-nemesis Fabio Fognini in the third round.

First-round match to watch: Brooksby vs. Pablo Cuevas

Semifinalist: Djokovic

Second Quarter

First, you get Djokovic and Nadal in the top quarter. Then you get Alcaraz and Alexander Zverev, two of this spring's best performers, in the next quarter. That's a lot for one half of a Grand Slam draw.

Two weeks ago, when Alcaraz beat Nadal and Djokovic and rolled over a tired Zverev in the Madrid final, the Spanish teen looked like the odds-on favorite to win in Paris. But then he took a week off, and Djokovic consolidated his position by winning Rome. That doesn't mean Alcaraz has dropped in our collective estimation, but it does mean that Djokovic has risen again to his old preeminence. Maybe this will help Alcaraz by taking a little pressure off. Believe it or not, the 19-year-old has made it past the third round at a major just once, and the expectations he'll face in Paris will be unlike anything he's experienced before. As for his draw, he could play the only man to beat him on clay this spring, Sebastian Korda, in the third round.

Potential third-round matches to watch:

Alcaraz vs. Korda

Zverev vs. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina

Semifinalist: Alcaraz

Third Quarter

Carlos Alcaraz
Carlos Alcaraz

Who benefits the most from the overloaded top half? Stefanos Tsitsipas is the most obvious candidate for that honor. The No. 4 seed is also the No. 4 favorite for the title after Djokovic, Nadal, and Alcaraz. That means he's far and away the favorite to make the final from the bottom half, the way he did in 2021.

Still, Tsitsipas will have to work to get back to the title round. He'll start with one of the tougher first-round opponents, Lorenzo Musetti, who made the fourth round here last year; Tsitsipas is 2-0 against the Italian. Also on Tsitsipas's side of this section are Dan Evans, Alex De Minaur, and Denis Shapovalov. Casper Ruud, who is coming off a semifinal run in Rome, could be waiting in the quarterfinals. Last year in Madrid, Ruud beat Tsitsipas in straight sets.

Sleeper: David Goffin. He's 31 and unseeded, but he won a title on clay this spring, and nearly won a match against Nadal in Madrid.

First-round matches to watch:

Tsitsipas vs. Musetti

Shapovalov vs. Holger Rune

Ruud vs. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who is retiring after this event

Semifinalist: Tsitsipas

Fourth Quarter

Daniil Medvedev will be the early headline-maker in this section. The world No. 2 returned from hernia surgery this week in Geneva, and lost his first match in nearly two months to Richard Gasquet. Medvedev likely play better in Paris, but will he be ready to beat Miomir Kecmanovic by the third round? That could be tough.

Which may leave Medvedev's countryman Andrey Rublev as the favorite to advance from this quarter. In the age of Alcaraz, Rublev has been flying well under the radar, but he has three titles in 2022, including one on clay. Rublev has a history of peaking at smaller events and being gassed at the Slams; with the big guns far from him in the draw, this might be his best chance yet to make a major semifinal.

First-round match to watch: Tommy Paul vs. Cristian Garin

Semifinalist: Kecmanovic

Semifinals: Djokovic d. Alcaraz; Tsitsipas d. Kecmanovic

Final: Djokovic d. Tsitsipas. –

Top-heavy draw projects Djokovic-Nadal quarterfinal