Andy Murray has always said that since his hip operation, he looked forward most to playing the big events and they won’t come much tougher than his first-round clash with Stan Wawrinka on the clay courts of Roland Garros.
Been a long journey to get back on Court Philipe Chatrier, Three-and-half years since I played Stan Wawrinka in a brutal five-set semi-final which turned out to be the end of my hip. Andy Murray
In many ways it was unfortunate the draw for this year’s rescheduled French Open pitches the former world number one against the player he lost to in 2017, in what was the last match Murray played before succumbing to the pain in his hip leading to a resurfacing operation some six months later.
That match was a five-set gruelling loss to the Swiss who fought back from two sets to one down to pull off the win.
The rematch is one of the highlights of the opening round with both players eager to re-establish themselves at the top end of the game.
Wawrinka, 35, a former French Open champion who was also side-lined for much of last year following a knee operation, is making faster progress than his rival as he has got himself back up to 17 on the world rankings while Murray, 33, is still 11 places outside the top 100 and needed a wildcard to make the main draw.
Prior to learning they would be playing against each other, both men were seen practicing together at Roland Garros.
“Been a long journey to get back on Court Philipe Chatrier,” Murray wrote on Instagram on the news of his draw.
“Three-and-half years since I played Stan Wawrinka in a brutal five-set semi-final which turned out to be the end of my hip.”
Meanwhile defending champion Rafael Nadal, seeded two and looking to extend his French Open record to 13, begins his campaign against Egor Gerasimov, the 83rd-ranked Belarusian.
The Spaniard is also aiming to equal Roger Federer’s all-time record of 20 single grand slam titles but could find the third seeded Dominic Thiem who has twice lost to Nadal in the final, a big hurdle to clear following the Austrian’s morale boosting US Open championship win. They are scheduled to clash at this year’s semi-final stage.
Thiem though has an eye-catching opener against Marin Cilic, the 2014 US Open winner and a former world number three.
Novak Djokovic is also aiming to improve his personal records as he bids to win his second FO title and reduce the gap between himself and Nadal in terms of grand slam singles title won to one. Currently his tally stands at 18.
The world number one will start his campaign against Sweden’s Mikael Ymer, who is 22 and ranked 80 in the world.
With Federer not taking part, Russia’s Daniil Medvedev, seeded four, is the Serbian’s scheduled semi-final opponent but he has never won a match at Roland Garros in three previous attempts.
Djokovic could face Hubert Hurkacz in the third, maybe Ugo Humbert, who is doing well in Hamburg this week, in the fourth.
Roberto Bautista Agut who is also deep into the Hamburg draw and his Spanish compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta might await him in the quarters while Karen Khachanov and Jan Lennard Struff also lurk in this section.
Daniil Medvedev, seeded four, has failed to live up to expectations, beaten in the first round of Hamburg after reaching the semis at the US Open. The change in surface has obviously not helped.
The Russian takes on Marton Fucsovics in his opening round and could face Adrian Mannarino in the second followed by the big-hitting Nikolaz Basilashvili in the third. The likelihood of him progressing that far seems slim on his current record and form but if he gets through his countryman Andrey Rublev waits in the fourth.
Denis Shapovalov, Grigor Dimitrov and Stefanos Tsitsipas are all in that section and could cause problems.
The Greek Tsitsipas is still in the running in Hamburg and is rediscovering some form while Shapovalov honed his game last week in Rome where he reached the semi-finals. The young Canadian looks to be the player to emerge from this quarter.
In the bottom quarter it is hard to pick out anyone to beat the King of Clay, 12-time FO champion Rafa Nadal. Britain’s Dn Evans is a likely opponent in round three, Fabio Fognini in the fourth and Alexander Zverev in the quarters.
Italian teenager Jannik Sinner meets David Goffin in a what looks like an interesting first round match.
Finally Dominic Thiem, one of the three title favourites for this year’s FO, kicks off against Marin Cilic as already mentioned. But his passage into the quarter-finals is not an easy one. He has the big-hitting 6’11” American Reilly Opelka in round two and either Andy Murray or Stan Wawrinka in the fourth.
Diego Schwartzman, who lost the Rome final to Djokovic, should be his quarter-final opponent.
Also lurking in that quarter are Felix Auger-Aliassime , Gael Monfils and Borna Coric.
Murray and Evans are not the only Brits in action. Cameron Norrie awaits a qualifier in Djokovic’s section and Liam Broady joins the group after successfully negotiating his way into the main draw. He awaits news as to where he will sit in said draw!
Broady, currently ranked 211, beat the 12th seeded Marc Polmans 7-6 6-4 to reach his first grand slam as a qualifier. His only previous appearance at that level was Wimbledon thanks to a wildcard reaching the second round in 2015.
The event kicks off on Sunday and 1,000 tennis fans will have the opportunity to watch their idols in actual action as the organisers are opening the doors to allow that number onto the site on a daily basis.
Originally the numbers was to be 5,000 but the spread of coronavirus within the country and in particular Paris, has forced the French Prime Minister Jean Castex to insist that the event subject itself to the same restrictions imposed on sporting events on Thursday as it is being staged in a ‘red zone’ – an area which is showing signs of a resurgent the virus.
“We will apply the same rules at Roland Garros as elsewhere,” Castex said. “We go from 5,000 to 1,000.”
There have also been complaints that the Roland Garros bubble is not as impenetrable as the one enforced at Flushing Meadows a few weeks back with players not being tested quickly enough and the hotels lacking the necessary security.