Roland Garros preview: Nadal, Halep dealt tough draws

  • Matt Trollope

Rafael Nadal begins his quest for an incredible 13th French Open title having landed in a tough half of the men’s singles draw. 

The draws, made on Thursday in Paris, included a blockbuster first-round clash between three-time major champions Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray – players who join Nadal in the bottom half.

DRAW: Roland Garros men's singles

Simona Halep, the No.1 seed and most recent winner in defending champion Ash Barty’s absence, faces a tricky path to a potential second title in three years.

Halep, who just a few days ago won the Rome title, heads a loaded top half of the women’s draw also containing Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens.

Nadal’s quest for 20th major title

Nadal, who opens against Egor Gerasimov of Belarus, arrives at a tournament he has dominated in very different circumstances to those of 2020.

Staged in autumn instead of spring, Roland Garros is using different balls and could feature indoor play, given Court Philippe Chatrier now has a retractable roof. Nadal also experienced a drastically reduced clay-court build-up, with just two wins from three matches in his only event in Rome.

Lying in his path could be No.14 seed Fabio Fognini in round four followed by sixth seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals.

The 12-time French champion is playing for a men's record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title yet drew the short straw when third seed Dominic Thiem – who beat him at AO 2020 – landed in his half, rather than in the top half headed by Novak Djokovic.

Thiem’s brutal draw

A rematch of the 2018 and 2019 Roland Garros finals between Nadal and Thiem will only eventuate if Thiem somehow navigates a path full of landmines.

The Austrian, who recently broke through for his first major title at the US Open, will face former world No.3 Marin Cilic in the first round before potentially Rome semifinalist Casper Ruud, the 28th seed, in round three.

Beyond that is a projected fourth-round clash with No.16 seed Wawrinka – the 2016 Roland Garros champion – and a quarterfinal clash with either proven French performer Gael Monfils or Rome finalist Diego Schwartzman. 

Halep foe looms in last 32

Should world No.2 Halep get through Sara Sorribes Tormo in round one and potentially tricky Swiss lefty Jil Teichman in round two, Halep faces a rematch with Amanda Anisimova.

The American, seeded 25th this year, sensationally stunned Halep – then the defending champion – in last year’s quarterfinals at age 17 to become the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in 12 years.

DRAW: Roland Garros women's singles

The winner of that clash could meet 15th seed Marketa Vondrousova in the last 16; the Czech advanced to her first major final in Paris last year before falling to Barty.

If Halep continues winning, things don’t get easier – looming in the quarterfinals could be either fifth seed Kiki Bertens or ninth seed Johanna Konta, both former French Open semifinalists.

Serena, Svitolina lead strong quarter

The second quarter of the draw is book-ended by No.3 seed Elina Svitolina and three-time French Open champion Serena Williams, who are set to clash in the quarterfinals.

Yet Williams, seeking a record-equalling 24th major title and who opens against Kristie Ahn for the second straight Slam, faces the prospect of a fourth-round battle with Victoria Azarenka.

The in-form Azarenka, seeded 10th, ended Williams’ US Open run in the semifinals – her first win over Serena in 11 attempts at a Grand Slam tournament.

Azarenka, who opens against Danka Kovinic of Montenegro, could face Venus Williams in round two.

Whoever comes through the Azarenka-Williams-Svitolina quarter is projected to meet Halep in the semis. 

Wawrinka v Murray

All eyes will be on the blockbuster first-round clash between Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray, who just days ago practiced together on Chatrier.

The battle between three-time major champions is especially poignant given it is a rematch of their brutal 2017 French Open semifinal – a match that broke both of them physically

Other exciting first-round matches in Paris include Konta v Gauff, Goffin v Sinner, Kuznetsova v Pavlyuchenkova, Shapovalov v Simon, Kontaveit v Garcia, Evans v Nishikori, Vondrousova v Swiatek, Bautista Agut v Gasquet, and Monfils v Bublik. 

Djokovic rivalling Nadal as favourite?

While hard to go past 12-time champion Nadal, world No.1 Djokovic is a proven performer in Paris and arrives at Roland Garros in arguably the best clay-court form.

A champion in Rome just a few days ago, the Serbian star begins against Swede Mikael Ymer and could take on No.15 seed Karen Khachanov in round four, the Russian who has reached the second week the past three years.

MORE: Top seeds Djokovic, Halep win in Rome

Djokovic is projected to meet No.7 seed Matteo Berrettini in the quarters, while rising stars Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Shapovalov – none of whom have produced their career-best results on clay – have all landed in the second quarter.

Whoever emerges from that quarter could be a semifinal opponent for Djokovic, who is seeking a second title at Roland Garros and 18th major trophy overall.

Pliskova’s plight

Second seed Karolina Pliskova, searching for her first Grand Slam title, has been dealt a tough path.

The Czech, who reached the recent final in Rome after winning the event in 2019, could take on 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in round two, and finalist Sloane Stephens in round three.

Pliskova, a Roland Garros semifinalist in 2017, could potentially contend with more major champions – Sofia Kenin, Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber – in the bottom half, although Kvitova and Kerber are not at their deadliest on clay.