PARIS – In his quest for a 10th title at the French Open, Rafael Nadal could face Novak Djokovic in the semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Nadal, the only player with nine trophies from one Grand Slam tournament, will open against Benoit Paire.
Nadal has been the dominant player of the clay-court season and has won 17 straight matches on his favorite surface, while Djokovic has been struggling with form and confidence recently.
“Rafa, next to Roger [Federer], has been the best player this year in terms of results,” Djokovic said. “Their level of tennis is quite fantastic. Rafa is playing on his favorite surface and playing with confidence, much better than last year. I definitely see him as probably the number one favorite for this title.”
Federer, who won the Australian Open in January, won’t be playing in Paris after he decided to skip the entire clay-court season to focus on his preparations for grass and hard courts.
So much has changed for Djokovic since the Serb completed a career Grand Slam at the French Open last year by beating Andy Murray in the final.
Djokovic’s form nosedived after his triumph on the Parisian red clay as he lost in the third round at Wimbledon for his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years. He was then beaten in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.
Djokovic, who lost his No. 1 ranking to Murray last year, has won only one of his last 11 tournaments.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be back and to look at this trophy. It brings back memories from last year,” Djokovic said at the draw ceremony. “Winning here was one of the most special feelings on the court, one of the highlights of my career.”
Djokovic, who hopes new coach Andre Agassi will help him turn his luck around over the next fortnight, will start the defense of his title against 76th-ranked Marcel Granollers.
The top-ranked Murray, who will open against Andrey Kuznetsov, was drawn in the same half as third-seeded and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka, who he could meet in the semifinals. Before that, he faces a potentially difficult match-up against Juan Martín del Potro in the third round if the Argentine player recovers in time from shoulder and back problems.
In the absence of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the women’s draw is looking wide open this year. An intriguing first round match-up will put defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza against 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone, while top-ranked Angelique Kerber will take on 40th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova.
Among the other favorites, third-seeded Simona Halep will be up against Jana Čepelová in the first round if her right ankle injury does not prevent her from playing.
Fifteenth-seeded Petra Kvitová has been included in the draw and was set to announce later Friday whether she would make her comeback at Roland Garros less than six months after the two-time Wimbledon champion was stabbed during an attack at home in the Czech Republic.
Williams is not playing because she is pregnant, while Sharapova’s ranking wasn’t high enough to gain direct entry into the tournament after a 15-month doping suspension. Tournament organizers did not grant her a wild card.
Play begins on Sunday at Roland Garros.