French Open preview: A closer look at the men's draw and top contenders

PARIS — The French Open draw was conducted on Friday at noon here in the presence of defending champions Garbine Muguruza and Novak Djokovic.

Here’s a closer look at the men’s draw, that is headlined by world No1 Andy Murray and is without world No5 and reigning Australian Open champion Roger Federer.

Favourites

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4]

Pretty much everyone’s favourite for the title in Paris after he swept through his first three tournaments of the clay-court season, winning Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid before falling to an in-form Dominic Thiem in the Rome quarters. Will the pressure of seeking an unprecedented 10th French Open title catch up with Nadal?

If he loses early, it’s tough to imagine it would be about pressure. Roland Garros is like a safe haven for him and Nadal is the kind of guy who would be more than content with nine French Opens, but would fight for a 10th with everything he’s got nonetheless.

Landing in the same half of the draw as Djokovic and Thiem is not the kindest of routes for him but his quarter of the draw is not a daunting one. Want a stat that would blow your mind? Nadal is 95-2 in best-of-five clay-court matches throughout his career, with his sole two losses coming against Djokovic and Robin Soderling.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6]

The 23-year-old has the same number of match wins on clay this season as Nadal – 17. He won the title in Rio in February, then had a tremendous European clay stretch, making finals in Barcelona (beat Murray) and Madrid and semis in Rome (beat Nadal). Thiem reached the semi-finals in Paris last year and gives you the sense that he is very comfortable with his status as a top-10 player and a real contender for the title. Might have to get past both Djokovic AND Nadal though to reach the final, which is no mean feat.

Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2]

The title holder has started to find his game with a decent run to the final in Rome (lost to Sascha Zverev) and with Andre Agassi in his corner, we can expect something special from the Serb this fortnight. If a reinvigorated passion is what Djokovic is looking for, then hanging out with one of the great legends of the game might do the trick. Looked sharp in his practice session with Grigor Dimitrov on Centre Court on Friday. His loss to Zverev in the Rome final however indicates he is still not at his best and has lots of work to do if he plans on defending his crown.

Alexander “Sascha” Zverev (GER) [9]

The 20-year-old German has officially arrived. He’s made his top-10 debut last Monday, thanks to his title triumph in Rome, beating Djokovic in the final nonetheless. At the French Open last season, his third round showdown with Thiem was dubbed as a sneak peek into the future. Well the future is a lot closer than we thought it was. Zverev lost to Thiem in four entertaining sets on Suzanne Lenglen last year and the world No10 has yet to reach the second week of a Slam. He has a legitimate chance of doing that this fortnight though with the highest seed in his section being a recently injured Kei Nishikori.

Stan is in the final in Geneva.

Stan is in the final in Geneva.

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3]

Playing Geneva the week before the French Open has done well for Wawrinka in the last two seasons. In 2015, Wawrinka won the Roland Garros title and he made semis last year. He said before that not coming to Paris early has helped him keep his mind off the stress of Grand Slam preparation. The world No3 is playing the final in his home city on Saturday and will have to make a quick turnaround in order to be ready for Paris. Considering he got the match wins he needed under his belt, he probably won’t mind it one bit.

David Goffin (BEL) [10]

There’s a reason why Goffin is No5 in the Race to London at the moment. The Belgian is 29-11 this season and has four wins out of seven matches against top-10 opponents in 2017 – including a victory over Djokovic in Monte Carlo. Reached the quarters in Paris last year, as well as at the Australian Open this season. Is definitely a player not many want to face here at Roland Garros.


Dark horses

Pablo Carreno Busta (ESP) [20]

The Spaniard won Estoril earlier this month and despite his indifferent results in Madrid and Rome, Carreno Busta has won as many matches as Nadal and Thiem on clay this season (17), having made the final in Rio and semis in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo. Is in Milos Raonic and Grigor Dimitrov’s section of the draw and in the same quarter as Nadal.

Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP) [19]

Many would be surprised to know that the winner of the most clay-court matches this season is not Rafael Nadal. It is in fact, Ramos-Vinolas, who has amassed 18 victories on the red dirt in 2017. A quarter-finalist in Paris last year, the Spaniard reached the final in Monte Carlo last month, taking out Murray in the process, before falling to the world No1 in a third-set tiebreak in the Barcelona quarters. Could be a tricky fourth round opponent for Djokovic.

Will we get a Djokovic-Thiem rematch?

Will we get a Djokovic-Thiem rematch?

Projected quarter-finals (by seed)

Top half: Andy Murray (GBR) [1] v Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8], Stan Wawrinka (SUI) [3] v Marin Cilic (CRO) [7]

Bottom half: Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] v Milos Raonic (CAN) [5], Novak Djokovic (SRB) [2] v Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6]

First rounds to watch

Rafael Nadal (ESP) [4] v Benoit Paire (FRA)

Considering Nadal hasn’t always had the smoothest of starts here in Paris, facing a player as unorthodox and unpredictable as Paire in front of his home crowd is definitely a tricky opener.

Alexander Zverev (GER) [9] v Fernando Verdasco (ESP)

Ranked No37 in the world, former top-10er Verdasco is an unseeded floater in the draw no one wants as a first round. Zverev beat him in Madrid a few weeks ago but with some early Grand Slam nerves to deal with, this could be tough.

Kei Nishikori (JPN) [8] v Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS)

With Nishikori complaining from wrist problems in the build-up to Paris, and Kokkinakis playing his first major since the 2015 US Open having been sidelined with a series of injuries for the past 18 months, this could be tighter than expected. It’s also a match where you’re kind of rooting for both players at the same time.

Gael Monfils (FRA) [15] v Dustin Brown (GER)

Hot shots galore! Bring your popcorn for that one. Always an unmissable match-up despite the fact that Monfils has been dealing with an Achilles’ problem he aggravated in Madrid and Brown has barely won any matches since March.

Nick Kyrgios (AUS) [18] v Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER)

Like Verdasco, Kohlschreiber is another non-seed not many would want to face in their first round at a Slam. Considering Kyrgios has been dealing with a hip injury, this is a potential five-setter.

Marin Cilic (CRO) [7] v Ernests Gulbis (LAT)

Believe it or not, Cilic won a title on clay earlier this month, in Istanbul. Believe it or not, it’s actually his second career title on the surface (anyone remember Umag 2012?). Gulbis was a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2014 but is now ranked 225 having struggled with injuries (most recently calf) and hasn’t played a main draw match this season. Sounds like a mismatch but a Gulbis appearance is rare nowadays and always worth a watch.

Dominic Thiem (AUT) [6] v Bernard Tomic (AUS)

Tomic only has five match wins this season – three of them have surprisingly come on clay. Thiem is the overwhelming favourite but who knows, maybe Tomic will try to make a fight out of it. Okay maybe not!

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