Nadal avoids early trouble in French Open draw

Published by Vivienne Christie

Rafael Nadal, at the 2018 draw, is targeting a record-extending 11th title at Roland Garros; Getty Images
The path to a record-extending 11th French Open title has unfolded favourably for world No.1 Rafael Nadal.

Rafael Nadal, aiming to extend the best French Open record in history to an 11th title, has avoided any early meetings with his most difficult opponents in a favourable draw.

Novak Djokovic, who inflicted one of Nadal’s only two losses at Roland Garros in 2015 before triumphing in Paris the following year, sits in the opposite half of the draw as the No.20 seed.

So too does No.7 seed Dominic Thiem, the only man to defeat Nadal on clay this season in Madrid.

Nadal begins his 14th Roland Garros campaign against world No.54 Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov, who has claimed only two wins in nine matches with Nadal.

A win against Dolgpolov would set up a second round with either Joao Sousa or Guido Pella, with Nadal then potentially facing No.27 seed Richard Gasquet.

Canadian teen Denis Shapovalov, who sensationally upset Nadal in his history-making charge to the Montreal Masters semifinals, could be looming in the fourth round.

Should matches progress according to seedings, the top seed would face Kevin Anderson (who Nadal defeated in the 2017 US Open final) in the quarterfinals and Marin Cilic or Juan Martin del Potro in the semis.

As one of only two men – alongside Alexander Zverev – to claim multiple clay court titles this season, the Spaniard is brimming with confidence ahead of his 32nd birthday.

“The last couple of weeks have been good,” said Nadal, the winner of 11th titles in Monte Carlo and Madrid, as well as an eighth in Rome.

“Of course, having the success gives me more confidence and I’m always motivated here to play as well as possible.”

It’s a far different story for 2016 champion Djokovic, who is still rebuilding form following the elbow surgery that kept him off tour for the second half of 2017 and required surgery earlier this year.

The Serb has drawn a qualifier first round but could then face wily Spaniard David Ferrer (who has also drawn a qualifier) in his next match.

Other potentially difficult opponents in Djokovic’s quarter include David Goffin (No.8 seed), Pablo Carreno Busta (No.10) and Roberto Bautista Agut (No.13).

Stan Wawrinka, another former French Open champion returning from injury, faces Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the opening round. Should he progress that far, the Swiss could face No.2 seed Alexander Zverev in the fourth round.

With wins in Munich and Madrid in the lead-up, Zverev is aiming to carry clay-court momentum into a career-best Slam at Roland Garros.

Wimbledon 2017 remains the only Slam in which the 21-year-old has progressed to a major fourth round, with a third round showing in 2016 his best performance at Roland Garros.

The German faces Ricardas Berankis of Lithuania first-up, before a possible second round with Jiri Vesely or Dusan Lajovic.

Zverev could face Thiem in an intriguing quarterfinal between the game’s best-credentialled young stars.

A Roland Garros semifinalist for the past two years, Thiem meets a qualifier in his opening match before a potential second round against fast-rising teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas.

The other projected quarterfinal, according to seedings, would see David Goffin (No.8) facing Grigor Dimitrov (No.4) for the 12th time. Goffin faces Robin Haase first, while Dimitrov meets Viktor Troicki.

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