Roland Garros: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer in same half of draw

  • Matt Trollope

The 'Big Three' of men’s tennis all landed in the top half of the Roland Garros men’s singles draw as the 128-player field was unveiled on Thursday evening in Paris.

World No.1 Novak Djokovic and 13-time champion Rafael Nadal are on a semifinal collision course, in what would be a rematch of their 2020 final in October.

DRAW: Roland Garros men's singles

The bottom half of the draw features younger title contenders including Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev and Casper Ruud.

Main-draw action begins on Sunday at Roland Garros.

Major storylines

As well as playing for a record-extending 14th French trophy, Nadal – who opens against big-hitting Australian Alexei Popyrin – has his sights on a 21st Grand Slam singles title, a men’s record.

Federer, currently tied with Nadal on 20 major titles, is making just his second appearance at Roland Garros since 2015, and has played only one clay-court match leading in. The Swiss, who plays a qualifier first up, admits he has set his sights beyond this event to ultimate success at Wimbledon. 

READ MORE: Nadal favourite but faces threats at Roland Garros

Djokovic, who first faces Tennys Sandgren, is playing for a 19th major title, which would see him close the gap on his legendary rivals and intensify the all-time Grand Slam race. Victory at Roland Garros would also see Djokovic become the first male player in the Open Era to win all four major titles at least twice.

Outside of the 'Big Three', the sport’s next generation appear poised for bigger success, with Tsitsipas and Zverev entering the tournament after winning ATP Masters titles in Monte Carlo and Madrid respectively.

Andrey Rublev is another, with the Russian having beaten Nadal in Monte Carlo and seeded to meet the Spaniard in a quarterfinal rematch in Paris.

Projected quarterfinals

[1] Novak Djokovic v [8] Roger Federer

Djokovic appears to have a relatively clear path through to the quarters; the first seed he could face is No.29 Ugo Humbert in round three, while projected last-16 opponent, No.13 seed David Goffin, has a tricky opener against Italian risin star Lorenzo Musetti. 

Federer, on the other hand, could face major champion Marin Cilic in round two, and recent Madrid finalist Matteo Berrettini in round four, should he progress that far. Promising seeds Taylor Fritz and Felix Auger-Aliassime have also landed in Federer’s segment. 

[3] Rafael Nadal v [7] Andrey Rublev

Popyrin represents a big-hitting first assignment for Nadal, who could then in the last 32 play surging Italian Lorenzo Sonego, the No.26 seed who won the ATP Cagliari title before advancing to the Rome Masters semifinals. Another Italian, Jannik Sinner, looms as a potential fourth-round opponent for Nadal.

Rublev, a Monte Carlo finalist, has also been dealt a tough draw, opening against Jan-Lennard Struff – one of the highest-ranked unseeded players in the draw who recently reached the Munich final. Munich winner Nikoloz Basilashvili could await in round three, while surging countryman Aslan Karatsev is favoured to meet Rublev in the last 16, provided he gets past 10th seed Diego Schwartzman again in a projected third-round clash.

[6] Alexander Zverev v [4] Dominic Thiem

Zverev is drawn to face qualifiers in his first two matches before a potential third-round meeting with No.25 seed Dan Evans, who has shown a remarkable improvement on clay in 2021. Zverev, twice a Roland Garros quarterfinalist, could in the last 16 play Roberto Bautista Agut or Karen Khachanov, seeds who must contend with former world No.4 Kei Nishikori in their segment.

It’s a rough draw for Thiem, who is struggling for form as he embarks on his Parisian campaign. He faces Pablo Andujar – the man who upset Federer in Geneva – in round one before a likely second-round meeting with Federico Delbonis, the in-form Argentine who has won the most tour-level matches (22 and counting) on clay in 2021. Should Thiem survive that, Ruud – who has enjoyed a brilliant clay-court season – could await in the last 16.

[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas v [2] Daniil Medvedev

A champion in Monte Carlo and Lyon, Tsitsipas has been flying on clay this season but will be wary of a potential third-round meeting with Isner, the No.31 seed who advanced to the quarters in Madrid. Pablo Carreno Busta, a champion in Marbella, looms in the last 16 for the Greek star.

But should they both get that far, Tsitsipas will be confident of reversing a lopsided 1-6 record against second seed Daniil Medvedev, whose struggles on clay are well documented. Medvedev may not even get past his opening-round match against talented Kazakh Alexander Bublik, which would see his record at Roland Garros slump to 0-5. Reilly Opelka, the No.31 seed and a recent Rome semifinalist, is Medvedev’s projected third-round opponent.

Best first-round matches

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Yoshihito Nishioka
[13] David Goffin v Lorenzo Musetti
[2] Rafael Nadal v Alexei Popyrin
[18] Jannik Sinner v Pierre-Hugues Herbert
[14] Gael Monfils v Albert Ramos-Vinolas
[7] Andrey Rublev v Jan-Lennard Struff
[15] Casper Ruud v Benoit Paire
[4] Dominic Thiem v Pablo Andujar
[5] Stefanos Tsitsipas v Jeremy Chardy
[2] Daniil Medvedev v Alexander Bublik