Nadal to face Zverev, de Minaur given tough Paris draw

Ian Chadband |

Rafael Nadal (R) and Alexander Zverev are set for a blockbuster first-round match at Roland Garros.
Rafael Nadal (R) and Alexander Zverev are set for a blockbuster first-round match at Roland Garros.

Rafael Nadal will face Olympic champion Alexander Zverev in what could prove a blockbusting farewell to the French Open while Australia’s top hope Alex de Minaur has been given a challenging draw.

Two of Australia’s best hopes, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alexei Popyrin, have been pitted against each other in the draw made in Paris on Thursday, ensuring that at least one of the nine-strong men’s contingent, the biggest at Roland Garros this century, will make the last-64.

But it’s a tough path for the two Australians in the women’s singles with the experienced pair of Daria Saville and Ajla Tomljanovic both having been handed first-round ties against seeded players.

Everything, though, was overshadowed by the news, which drew gasps among the draw audience at Roland Garros, that Nadal will play German No.4 seed Zverev should the Spanish 14-time champ definitely decide to compete.

Nadal’s been coy about whether he’ll play in the French Open one last time after two seasons of injury woes and an unconvincing return to action, but his name in the official draw suggests he’s ready for action.

If so, he’ll be overwhelming favourite to bow out at the first hurdle from the tournament he’s dominated for so long because Zverev is in fine form, fresh from his triumph in the Italian Open.

It will be a rematch of the pair’s 2022 semifinal on Court Philippe Chatrier that ended in shocking scenes as Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.

Nadal Zverev
Nadal and Zverev ended up hugging in their last French Open clash after the German’s awful injury. (AP PHOTO)

De Minaur, the No.11 seed, will open up against rising American teenager Alex Michelsen and could face tough Spanish veteran Roberto Bautista-Agut in the second round, and, most likely, the dangerously unpredictable Kazakh Alexander Bublik in the third.

If he gets to the fourth round, de Minaur could be the first Australian man to reach the second week since his Davis Cup captain Lleyton Hewitt in 2007.

De Minaur
Alex de Minaur, Australia’s best hope for a deep run, will play a US teenager in his opener. (AP PHOTO)

Popyrin’s draw with Kokkinakis is pretty unfortunate, with the pair perhaps Australia’s next best hopes for a deep run. Kokkinakis won their only previous meeting in Adelaide last year.

In the women’s draw, Australian No.1 Saville will have a hard time subduing the irrepressible Italian Jasmine Paolini, the 12th seed who’s one of the rising forces in the game.

Tomljanovic, who’s completed just one match in her comeback after four months out amid injuries, illness and surgery, will also be a long shot again Ukraine’s 30th seed, Dayana Yastremska.

Defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic will play French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert in his opening clash as he seeks a record-breaking 25th grand slam title, while women’s world No.1 Iga Swiatek will launch the defence of her crown against a qualifier.

World No.2 Jannik Sinner will take on big-hitting American Christopher Eubanks in the men’s singles while two-time grand slam winner Carlos Alcaraz will face a qualfier.

There’s another irresistible-looking opening-round tie, which brings together distinguished old rivals, Andy Murray and former champ Stan Wawrinka. 


Men’s singles

11-Alex de Minaur v Alex Michelsen (USA)

Chris O’Connell v Qualifier

Aleksandar Vukic v. Zhizen Zhang (CHN)

Jordan Thompson v Maximilian Marterer (GER)

Thanasi Kokkinakis v Alexei Popyrin

Adam Walton v Arthur Rinderknech (FRA)

Max Purcell v Qualifier

Rinky Hijikata v Luciano Darderi (ITA)

Women’s singles

Ajla Tomljanovic v 30-Dayana Yastremska (UKR)

Daria Saville v 12-Jasmine Paolini (Ita)