Men’s draw: Who's in the way between Rafa and a lucky 13th?

 - Dan Imhoff

Perennial champion Nadal gets Thiem as a potential semi-final opponent.

Rafael Nadal, Roland-Garros 2020, practice©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

The men’s singles draw for Roland-Garros 2020 was completed on Thursday night, when the path for 12-time champion Rafael Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic became apparent.

These are some of the notable takeaways from what is sure to become an intriguing two weeks of main draw action in the French capital.

Nadal’s route to a 13th title

They said 2020 wouldn’t be easy and while Dominic Thiem might be quick to raise his hand to lay claim on the trickiest Roland-Garros draw, Nadal could stake his own case for consideration in his bid for a record-extending 13th Roland-Garros trophy.

Arriving in the French capital with a 1-2 record on clay leading in – that’s matches, not trophies – the No.2 seed will relish the prospect of a handful of relatively gentle early rounds, on paper at least, with Belarusian world No.83 Egor Gerasimov up first.

The Spaniard would not likely need to lift a gear until a potential clash with No.14 seed Fabio Fognini in the fourth round. The Italian has beaten Nadal three times on clay before.

Recent US Open finalist, No.6 seed Alexander Zverev, is a possible quarter-final opponent and should that come to pass he could next square off against that newly-anointed major winner and clay court-loving familiar foe the top two seeds least wanted to draw: Thiem.

Djokovic looks to continue winning ways

Few players could shake the letdown of a US Open disqualification, change surfaces and win a Masters 1000 event in Rome only two weeks later quite like the indefatigable Djokovic.

The top seed admitted he did not summon anywhere near his best level to win at the Foro Italico and that could spell trouble for No.15 seed Karen Khachanov and No.7 seed Matteo Berrettini should he have hit his straps by the second week. First the Serb must take care of Swede Mikael Ymer.

While projecting too far ahead risks wild inaccuracies, should seeds hold, the No.4 Daniil Medvedev would be doing well to lock in that semi-final showdown, having not won a match on the red stuff in Paris in three prior attempts.

Following an agonising fourth-round defeat to Stan Wawrinka last year, No.5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas would have his eye on rival Medvedev’s semi-final spot for a possible crack at Djokovic. The newest top-10 debutant Denis Shapovalov could play spoiler, however, to reach his second straight major quarter-final at the Greek’s expense.

Novak Djokovic - Roland-Garros 2019 - entraînement©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Thiem lands toughest path

If the Austrian is to become the first man in the Open Era to win his first two majors back-to-back he will need to do it the hard way.

The No.3 seed has arrived in Paris after a well-earned break, following his maiden slam-winning exploits in New York less than a fortnight ago.

After three previous Grand Slam final defeats – twice at Roland-Garros to Nadal, the other in January to Djokovic – Thiem might have to beat his Court Philippe-Chatrier tormentor in the semi-finals before backing up to beat his Rod Laver Arena conqueror in the final.

That’s if he makes it that far. In a battle between the current and former US Open champions, Thiem starts against Croat Marin Cilic and could find himself standing in the first row of the stands to return Reilly Opelka’s serves should he win that.

In-form Norwegian dirt-ball lover Casper Ruud looms before the chance of meeting former champion Wawrinka, then last week’s Rome runner-up, Diego Schwartzman - or French eighth seed Gael Monfils - just to reach the semi-finals.

Unseeded threats lurk

Only seven spots out of the seedings, home hopeful Ugo Humbert is a dangerous proposition having just landed his first top-10 victory in Hamburg this week over Medvedev. The 21-year-old opens against a qualifier and could pose a headache for seeds Cristian Garin and Khachanov in the early rounds.

Without the protection of a seeding three-time major winner Andy Murray was at the mercy of an open draw. And the draw gods didn’t look too favourably on the Scot, slating him to meet No.16 seed and fellow triple major champion Wawrinka in the opening round. The last time the pair crossed paths was in the semi-finals on Court Philippe-Chatrier three years ago, in which the Swiss prevailed in five. Murray has not played Roland-Garros since.

Before Rome, Dominik Koepfer was better known in Challenger Tour circles. But the 26-year-old German lefty came through qualifying in the Italian capital and beat the likes of Monfils and Alex de Minaur before becoming the only man to take a set off Djokovic, in the quarter-finals. His reward for winning a match would be facing the winner of Wawrinka and Murray.