By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – World number one Carlos Alcaraz faces a tough path to a maiden French Open title after being placed in the same half of the draw as 22-times Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic on Thursday.
In the absence of 14-times winner and defending champion Rafael Nadal, who will miss the claycourt major through injury, all eyes are on Djokovic and Alcaraz.
The 20-year-old Alcaraz, who will play a qualifier in the opening round, could face some treacherous match-ups en route to a potential semi-final against world number three Djokovic with 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas, Lorenzo Musetti and Felix Auger-Aliassime in the top quarter of the draw.
Djokovic, who starts against Aleksandar Kovacevic, has a seemingly smooth journey to the last four with Russian seventh seed Andrey Rublev his main threat.
World number two Daniil Medvedev, who plays a qualifier in the first round, is in the lower part of the draw and could face either last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud or Norway’s Holger Rune.
Sixth seed Rune won the Munich title on clay this season and reached the final in Monte Carlo and Rome, losing to Medvedev in the Italian capital.
“It’s going to be an emotional edition of the French Open after (tournament director) Amelie Mauresmo received a call from Rafael Nadal saying he could not take part in the tournament,” French federation president Gilles Moretton said.
“It will also be emotional because it marks the 40th anniversary of Yannick Noah’s triumph at Roland Garros.”
No French man has won the singles’ title since 1983 and it would take a miracle to see one of them lift the Musketeers Cup on June 11.
In the women’s draw, defending champion and world number one Iga Swiatek will start against Cristina Bucsa, the world number 67.
She faces a potential quarter-final clash against Coco Gauff, the American she beat in last year’s final.
Swiatek, who retired in Rome with a thigh injury, has already started practising at Roland Garros this week.
Anhelina Kalinina, who reached the final in Rome earlier this month, could stand in Gauff’s way in the third round.
French hopes will rest on the shoulders of fifth seed Caroline Garcia, who is on a quarter-final collision course with second seed Aryna Sabalenka.
Belarusian Sabalenka, the Australian Open champion, beat Swiatek in the final of the Madrid Open last month.
Rome champion Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan is expected to have a smooth run to the last eight, where she could face Tunisian seventh seed Ons Jabeur.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)
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