Can Rafa Nadal collect another French Open title? That remains the big question as the major clay court championships get under way at Roland Garros tomorrow.
Nadal will open his challenge for an unprecedented 11th title against Alexandr Dolgopolov and all being well, he won’t face a seed until the third round when Richard Gasquet, the local favourite and former quarter-finalist, hopes to trip him up.
Should the 31-year-old from Mallorca make the last eight, as he has done on every occasion since his debut in 2005 with the exceptions of 2009 and 2016, sixth seeded South African Kevin Anderson is expected to be his first real challenge, a player he beat last year when they contested the US Open final.
Anderson, for his part, starts against Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi, while the first seed he could face is Spain’s Feliciano Lopez, who will be contesting a record-equalling 65th consecutive major dating back to the 2002 French Open.
Also in the top quarter is the 14th seeded Jack Sock and the exciting albeit inexperienced 19-year-old Denis Shapovalov whom Nadal beat in the third round of the Rome Masters earlier this month.
In the second quarter of the draw Marin Cilic, the third seed, is the player to wpcted to come through to the latter stages of the tournament. He opens his challenge against Australia’s James Duckworth who is playing with a protected ranking having suffered a series of injuries over the last two years.
Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren should provide the Croat with his second round opponent and if the seedings stand up, he could be meeting the British No.1 Kyle Edmund in the fourth round in what would e a repeat of the semi-final clash in Melbourne last January.
Edmund, seeded 16, is up against another exciting albeit inexperienced youngster Alex de Minaur who made quite an impression Down Under at the start of the season.
Cilic’s biggest threat comes in the larhe shape of another former US Open champion, Juan Martin del Potro, whose seeding of fifth is the Argentine’s highest at a major since the 2014 Australian Open.
DelPo starts against Nicholas Mahut, who will be competing thanks to a wildcard, his 12th at a Grand Slam and 8th at Roland Garros.
The Argentine’s potential fourth round opponents include ninth seed John Isner, and former Wimbledon finalist Tomas Berdych, who defeated him in the third round at the Australian Open last January.
In the third quarter, or the top of the bottom half of the draw, Belgium’s David Goffin, seeded eight, opens up against Ronin Haase while Gael Monfils, the French entertainer and a crowd favourite, should prove to be his third-round opponent.
Australian Nick Kyrgios, who has not played singles for over a month owing to an elbow injury, is also in this section of the draw and he will face his compatriot Bernard Tomic who has successfully fought his way into the main draw through the qualifying tournament.
US Open semi-finalist Pablo Carreno Busta could await the 23-year-old ‘bad boy of Aussie tennis’ in the third round.
Two names which could well appear in the latter sTages to challenge the defending champion are Grigor Dimitrov and former champion Novak Djokovic who has dropped out of the top 20 for the first time 12 years.
The pair are scheduled to meet in the fourth round should they successfully navigate their way through the early rounds, which could see them face a pair of Spaniards, Fernando Verdasco and Roberto Bautista-Agut, respectively in the third round.
2013 finalist David Ferrer also lurks in this section of the draw and looms as a second-round opponent for Djokovic but shouldn’t prove too big a hurdle for the Serbian.
Down at the bottom of the draw is the player who is most likely to reach the final, the second seed from Germany, Alexander Zverev nd his build up to the French has been as positive as that of Nadal himself, with wins in Munich and Madrid as wel as reaching the Rome Masters final where he lost to … Nadal!
Zverev opens his change against Ricardis Berankis and should he progress to the last eight as expected, he will be challenged in round four by the 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka, seeded 23, who is still struggling to regain his form prior to knee surgery.
The Swiss starts against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
Another player who could upset proceedings is the seventh seeded Dominic Thiem who arrives in Paris after playing the final in Lyon. As a two-time semi-finalist
Whoever emerges from this part of the draw is projected to face seventh seed and two-time semi-finalist Dominic Thiem, who could well have the easiest passage into the round of 16 as he could be facing three consecutive qualifiers where he should run into the 12th seed Sam Querrey