MORE FROM THE DRAW
Men's popcorn first rounds: Rafa gets tricky opener
Defending champion Nadal could meet Djokovic in the semi-finals as Federer joins them in the same part of the draw
Seven months on from his 13th victory march to the Roland-Garros dais, Rafael Nadal’s path in 2021 was revealed on Thursday as the men’s singles draw was set.
These are some of the notable highlights from what stands to become a stacked two weeks of main draw action in Paris.
At any other major, third seed Nadal may have a solid argument for the toughest draw on paper.
As a 13-time champion in Paris, however, the numbers and the names in his section of the draw lose some of their sting given his record. There will be no repeat of last year’s final at least with the 34-year-old drawn in the same half as world No.1 Novak Djokovic.
No round’s a good round to catch Nadal off guard in his domain and Alexei Popyrin is about to find out first up whether he can become a thorn in the Spaniard’s side.
The dangerous Australian landed his first tour title earlier in the year in Singapore and drew high praise from Nadal in a third-round defeat in Madrid earlier this month.
The No.3 seed is assured of meeting a Frenchman in the second round – either Hugo Gaston or former top-tenner Richard Gasquet – with in-form Briton Cameron Norrie or Rome semi-finalist and Sardegna Open champion, 26th seed Lorenzo Sonego in round three.
His quarter-final opponent from last year, fast-rising 18th seed Jannik Sinner looms as a likely fourth-round foe before a possible clash against the man who had his measure in Monte-Carlo, seventh seed Andrey Rublev.
Yet to touch down in Paris, top seed Djokovic is the name among the leading contenders still competing this week, in his home city of Belgrade.
It could be a tight turnaround should the Serb keep winning but he will favour his chances in his Roland-Garros opener against American Tennys Sandgren.
Italian ninth seed Matteo Berrettini would potentially be Djokovic’s first danger in the quarter-finals before a possible fourth semi-final showdown in Paris with Nadal. The last time the pair crossed paths at that stage Djokovic fell 9-7 in the fifth in 2013.
Should fourth seed Dominic Thiem fail to rectify his confidence woes in time, there will be a new Roland-Garros finalist in the bottom half where fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas brings arguably the hottest form.
Having avoided landing in the same half as the 'Big Three', the 22-year-old could be expected to reach his second straight semi-final in Paris.
Second seed Daniil Medvedev has never passed the first round in four prior attempts and tops Tsitsipas’s quarter. Fourth seed Thiem could run into clay-court-loving 15th seed Casper Ruud in the fourth round with the winner on a path to meet sixth seed, Madrid champion Alexander Zverev, in the quarter-finals.
One in 2021. That’s how many matches Swiss great Roger Federer has won heading into his 19th Roland-Garros campaign. Expectations are understandably tempered given he has only taken the court three times this year on a cautious return from two knee surgeries.
If not for his clay-court tormentor and greatest man to set foot on the surface, five Roland-Garros finals in six years could well have reaped more than a sole title.
The 39-year-old, while seeded eighth, won’t look beyond his first round against a qualifier. Should he double his match wins for the season he could meet former world No.3 Marin Cilic in the second round, in a rematch of their 2017 Wimbledon final.
US 30th seed Taylor Fritz could await in the third round before a possible fourth-round clash with in-form Italian ninth seed Berrettini for a chance to potentially meet Djokovic. There would be few surprises if this was the 2009 champion’s Parisian swansong.
After carving a route through qualifying to make his Grand Slam main draw debut last year, Sebastian Korda, the athletically-blessed son of former finalist Petr Korda, made his way to the fourth round before running into his idol, Nadal. The American has made giant leaps since, including a maiden Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami. He could prove a tricky second-round challenge for Tsitsipas should he first beat Pedro Martinez.
Only two places outside a seeding, Kazakhstan's Alexander Bublik proved he is more than just a showman this season with a run to his first Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami, before repeating the feat in Madrid this month, beating the likes of Denis Shapovalov and Aslan Karatsev. He felled ninth seed Gael Monfils in the opening round last year and would favour his chances of taking down No.2 seed Medvedev at the first hurdle this time round.
Surprise Rome semi-finalist No.32 seed Reilly Opelka, Chilean 22nd seed Cristian Garin or 16th-seeded Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov may fancy their chances of filling that quarter-final berth.
After bowing out in the opening round to Italian teenager Sinner last year, Goffin will be none too thrilled at the draw he was dealt in 2021. The Belgian starts his campaign against Sinner’s rapidly rising fellow 19-year-old Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who reached the semi-finals in Lyon last week.