Men's popcorn R1s: Tough start for Felix

A host of blockbuster battles are on the cards from the off when main draw action begins in Paris

Felix Auger-Aliassime, Rome 2023© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Alex Sharp

The men's singles draw is officially out and the world's best have learned their fate as 128 will be whittled down to one over the next fortnight.

Here are some standout first-round encounters you won't want to miss.

Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN) [10] v Fabio Fognini (ITA)

This is the definition of a popcorn match. Top 10 powerhouse Felix Auger-Aliassime is still bidding to fulfil his potential.

The Canadian will take to court with the mischievous Fabio Fognini. The Italian may have fallen to world No.130, but he has the artillery to fire through anyone on his day.

Two top 50 wins over Andy Murray and Miomir Kecmanovic on home courts in Rome indicate the Roland-Garros 2011 quarter-finalist could be feeling in the groove for an almighty upset.

Fabio Fognini, Roland-Garros 2021, first round©️ Philippe Montigny/FFT

Benoit Paire (FRA) [WC] v Cameron Norrie (GBR) [14]

All factors point to the ultra-consistent Brit advancing to the second round. Cameron Norrie has excelled on clay this season, heading into the Buenos Aires final and then lifting the Rio trophy courtesy of a three-set triumph over Carlos Alcaraz.

While the world No.14 leads their head-to-head 2-0, facing Benoit Paire is wildly unpredictable.

The home fans adore this supremely gifted 34-year-old, who always draws a crowd and can light it up with unique shot selection. 

Expect chants, expect hot shots, expect the unexpected.

Cameron Norrie Roland Garros second round© Clément Mahoudeau/FFT

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [3] v Aleksandar Kovacevic (USA)

This is one for the tennis purists.

American Aleksandar Kovacevic has some serious flair on the tennis court with a picture-perfect single-handed backhand and the ability to transition up the court with ease.

Trust us, the world No.114 has some serious talent. Being Kovacevic's Grand Slam debut, will he go for broke and swing freely?

Over the net, world No.3 Novak Djokovic is attempting to carve out even more history in Paris. The two-time champion is chasing a men's all-time record 23rd major.

It will be intriguing to see how the Serbian attacks the unheralded American.

Novak Djokovic, entraînements, Roland-Garros 2023©Nicolas Gouhier / FFT

Arthur Fils (FRA) v Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ESP) [29]

Spain's Alejandro Davidovich Fokina is an elite player on the terre battue.

The world No.34 was runner-up at the Monte Carlo Masters in 2022 and more recently toppled world No.6 Holger Rune to reach the round of 16 in Madrid. His court coverage and sporadic diving make 'ADF' a captivating watch.

French teenager Arthur Fils is a showman too, regularly conducting the crowd to raise the roof.

Rewind to Roland-Garros 2021 when Fils was a finalist in the boys' singles and champion in the boys' doubles alongside Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard. They are memories Fils will undoubtedly draw upon.

The home charge has already rocketed up to world No.112 with standout wins over Stan Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet and Roberto Bautista Agut.

Gael Monfils (FRA) v Sebastian Baez (ARG)

Hot shots you never see coming, miraculous speed and athleticism. It can only be the human highlight reel, Gael Monfils.

The Frenchman, a semi-finalist in 2008, is on the comeback trail from injuries, however the 36-year-old can never be ruled out.

Monfils will have to lace up his runners because Sebastian Baez is a dogged athlete with an endless reservoir of energy.

The Argentine youngster has plenty of clay-court credentials too – lifting titles in Estoril in 2022 and Cordoba in 2023.

Gaël Monfils Roland-Garros 2021©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Ben Shelton (USA) [30] v Lorenzo Sonego (ITA)

This is a top 50 tussle well worth tuning in for when 20-year-old Roland-Garros debutant Ben Shelton and world No.45 Lorenzo Sonego square off.

In their previous meeting on hard courts in Cincinnati last year, Shelton prevailed in a thriller, 7-6(5), 3-6, 7-5.

Italian Sonego thrives on the front foot with early striking and possess some mind-boggling retrieval skills, while Shelton, with his power, versatile serve and canny net play, is already being mentioned as a future major contender.

In his first season venturing outside the United States, has already skyrocketed to world No.35, following a standout run to the Australian Open quarter-finals in January. Could he be about to rumble the established guard in Paris?