Day 3: Things to look out for

Last year's finalists Nadal and Djokovic begin their campaigns as Barty returns to Chatrier two years after winning RG

Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Monte Carlo Masters 2021© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

With 13-time champion Rafael Nadal and the two world No.1s – Novak Djokovic and Ashleigh Barty – in action, day three at Roland-Garros promises to be another blockbuster as the first round draws to a close.

Nadal, Djokovic begin title campaigns

Having won his 13th Roland-Garros title here last October, Nadal finds himself in the unusual position of being the No.3 seed, after he was usurped by Daniil Medvedev in the rankings.

But the Spaniard comes into Roland-Garros as the favourite once again, with two titles - in Barcelona and then Rome, where last month he beat Djokovic in the final, with the extra carrot of a chance to win a record 21st Grand Slam title.

Despite having a statue of himself unveiled at Roland-Garros on the eve of the event,  Nadal will take nothing for granted against Australia’s Alexei Popyrin, who at No.63, is just two places off his career-high.

“He's young, he has the power, he has big shots,” Nadal said of Popyrin, whom he saw close up in their only previous meeting, in Madrid this year, a match he won in straight sets.

“As always, I need to be ready for it. I know every round is tough, I respect every opponent, always. I respected everyone since the beginning of my career. And Popyrin is a dangerous one. So I need to play well and I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen.”

Top seed Djokovic, drawn in the same half as Nadal, begins his quest to win his 19th Grand Slam title with a first-round match against American Tennys Sandgren.

Chasing his second Roland-Garros title, Djokovic warmed up by winning the title last weekend in Belgrade and will grace the night session.

World No.1 Barty makes her bow

After missing last year’s Roland-Garros as she stayed in Australia during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, Barty returns to the place that made her a star.

The top seed won the title at Roland-Garros in 2019 and having won on clay in Stuttgart and made the final in Madrid already this year, she goes into the event as the woman to beat.

“Honestly it feels like a lifetime ago,” said the Australian, who begins against American left-hander Bernarda Pera, about her triumph on Parisian clay two years ago.

"Coming back to the site here at Roland-Garros is obviously pretty special, pretty cool to be able to walk onto Chatrier and have so many memories kind of come flooding back. A lot of it I also don't remember and it feels like it was such a long time ago.

“It's certainly a clean slate for us this week but exciting to be here, exciting to be back and getting ready to play.”

Fifth seed Elina Svitolina and No.9 seed Karolina Pliskova, the runner-up to Iga Swiatek in Rome, are among the other leading women in action, while 17-year-old Coco Gauff, many people's outside pick for the title, plays Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia.

Ashleigh Barty, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The return of the drop shot king and queen

If there was a prize handed out for who hits the most drop shots per match then Ons Jabeur and Hugo Gaston would win hands down.

Tunisian Jabeur, the No.25 seed, has used the drop shot to great effect throughout her career, especially last year, when she reached the last 16 for the first time in Paris.

Frenchman Gaston was the revelation of the 2020 Roland-Garros, drop-shotting Stan Wawrinka to defeat and then almost beating Dominic Thiem thanks to 54 drop shots, his touch and finesse thrilling the crowds.

A wildcard entrant this year, Gaston plays fellow Frenchman Richard Gasquet in round one, while other men in action include Gael Monfils, the No 14 seed, who faces Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain, and ninth seed Matteo Berrettini.