Tennis: Rafael Nadal draws tough start to French Open swansong

Rafael Nadal in action at the 2022 French Open.
Rafael Nadal in action at the 2022 French Open. Photo credit: Getty Images

Rafael Nadal has been handed a tough start to what is expected to be his French Open farewell, with the record 14-time champion drawing fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the first round.

Novak Djokovic will begin his quest for a 25th Grand Slam crown against local hope Pierre-Hugues Herbert, while top-ranked Iga Swiatek kicks off her French Open title defence against a qualifier.

Unseeded Nadal, who missed his favourite Grand Slam tournament due to injury last year, has plummeted down the rankings during an extended spell on the sidelines and says he expects to retire after this season.

The pairing drew an audible gasp in the room and the two will meet for the first time since their 2022 semi-final clash at Roland Garros, which Nadal won, after Zverev suffered an injury and retired.

"It's coming a little early in the tournament surely," said former world No.1 and tournament director Amelie Mauresmo. "This is good news for neither of them."

Should Nadal win the match, he could face 2021 US Open winner Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals.

The audience cheered, when Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka was drawn against fellow three-time Grand Slam winner Andy Murray.

"It's a superb match-up," said Mauresmo, who used to coach Murray.

Djokovic has struggled in the first half of 2024 and is yet to win a title this year. The Serbian was knocked out of the Italian Open in the third round this month, after suffering a freak head injury.

The world No.1, who is competing in this week's Geneva Open, will look to put that disappointment behind him and get his season back on track at Paris, where he could meet Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals in a rematch of last year's final.

Two-time Grand Slam champion and last year's losing semi-finalist, Carlos Alcaraz, begins against a qualifier, while newly crowned Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner faces American Christopher Eubanks.

Alexander Zverev.
Alexander Zverev. Photo credit: Getty Images

In the women's draw, defending champion and world No.1 Swiatek is in a hot streak of form, after winning both the Madrid Open and Italian Open, and is favourite to claim her fourth title at Roland Garros.

However, the Pole could face a tough opponent in her quarter-final, including four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, Miami Open winner Danielle Collins and Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova.

"This season has been really great already for me," said Swiatek. "I know I can adjust to any kind of conditions even in a short amount of time."

World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka meets Erika Andreeva, while Elena Rybakina, who reached the semi-finals at Madrid, but was forced to pull out of Rome due to illness, takes on Belgium's Greet Minnen.

US Open champion Coco Gauff, who reached the final of the 2022 French Open, will play a qualifier in the first round and could face Ons Jabeur in a mouthwatering quarter-final clash.

Mauresmo says Swiatek is the favourite in the women's draw, while there is a lot of uncertainty in the men's singles.

"Everything is open," she added.