Nadal faces tall order at opening hurdle

Fourteen-time champion to face in-form top-four seed as Djokovic learns path to title defence

Rafael Nadal, practice, Roland-Garros 2024©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Unseeded 14-time winner Rafael Nadal and reigning champion Novak Djokovic have discovered their respective routes and could not square off before the semi-finals should the draw pan out accordingly.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the men’s draw.


Nadal to hit the ground running

Despite a less-than-ideal preparation, Nadal is the name that leaves more players quaking at the prospect of facing at Roland-Garros than any other before him.

The Spaniard declared in no uncertain terms that if he took his place in the main draw he was up to the challenge this fortnight and what a task he was dealt in fourth seed Alexander Zverev first up.

Zverev comes off his first Masters 1000 title in three years in Rome on Sunday and will face Nadal for the first time since that ill-fated semi-final two years ago in which the pair stood toe-to-toe before a horror ankle injury, which ruled out the German for the remainder of the season.

Should Nadal find a way through he would not have to face his toughest rival and the only player to beat him at Roland-Garros in the past 14 years, Djokovic, until the semi-finals, but he won’t be looking beyond the task at hand.

Belgian former world No.7 David Goffin looms as a second-round opponent for Nadal or Zverev, with 26th seed Tallon Griekspoor, 13th seed Holger Rune and fifth seed Daniil Medvedev the projected seeds before a possible Djokovic semi-final.

Rafael Nadal, Alexander Zverev, demi-finales, Roland-Garros 2022©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Djokovic learns path to defence

Not since 2018 has Djokovic arrived in Paris under a cloud of such uncertainty.

With the greatest thorn in his side on the clay also relatively underdone, however, it marks an unprecedented scenario in Paris for the three-time champion.

The top seed will have enough to wrap his head around early on without considering the fortunes of Nadal as he looks to carry valuable match-play from Geneva this week into his opening round clash against French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert, whom he has beaten once before.

His route to a first Roland-Garros title defence could include having to deny 30th seed Lorenzo Musetti or Gael Monfils in the third round, 14th seed Tommy Paul in the fourth, and last year’s finalist and seventh seed Casper Ruud just to reach the semi-finals.

Novak Djokovic, Casper Ruud, Roland-Garros 2023, final, trophy© Pauline Ballet/FFT

Alcaraz on Sinner collision course

Spain’s smiling assassin Carlos Alcaraz has not had it all his own way since he felled Djokovic in a classic Wimbledon final last season.

A right forearm injury cost him much of his clay-court swing in 2024, with a lone quarter-final run from the Madrid Masters his only tour matches on the surface ahead of an opening round test against a qualifier in Paris.

The 21-year-old could meet second seed Jannik Sinner in a blockbuster semi-final but may first need to pass Jack Draper in the second round, 27th seed Sebastian Korda, 15th seed Ben Shelton and his Madrid conqueror, sixth seed Andrey Rublev, in succession just to reach the last four.

Rome finalist on Sinner's route

The newest member of the Grand Slam winners’ fray, Sinner, had the wind in his sails following his Australian Open breakthrough in January, but has not played since his withdrawal ahead of his Madrid quarter-final three weeks ago.

The Italian would favour his chances against American Christopher Eubanks, whose game is better suited to faster surfaces, before a clash with French veteran Richard Gasquet or Borna Coric in the second round.

Thirty-second seed Cameron Norrie, Rome finalist and 16th seed Nicolas Jarry and eighth seed Hubert Hurkacz stand as the likely seeds on his path to the semi-finals.