The ‘Big Three’ have been drawn for the first time in their careers, in the same half of the French Open draw in what can only be described as the worst outcome for all concerned as an epic Final between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic is now out of the question with the pair scheduled to meet in the semi-finals.
In addition there is an outside chance that Roger Federer, the 2009 champion, despite his lack of match play, could face the top seeded Djokovic, the 2016 champion, in the quarter-finals!
It seems ironic that the three most successful men in grand slam history could have to face each other in order to get to the final but it certainly provides an opportunity for the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas to sneak into the championships round from the bottom half.
But there is still plenty at stake as the three continue to chase titles with a view to establishing themselves as the ‘All-Time-Great’ of the era with Nadal in the driving seat as far as Roland Garros is concerned.
The great Spaniard, who is currently tied at 20 in grand slam terms with Federer, could pull ahead in that race should he collect, as expected, his record-breaking 14th French Open title.
It’s a mind-boggling record and the French authorities have already acknowledged by commissioning and erecting a statue in honour of the Mallorcan’s Roland Garros achievements where he currently stands head and shoulders above his peers with a record of 100 matches won as against just 2 lost!
The unveiling of the statue on the day of the draw, could be questioned. In fact, erecting a statue to a player who is still active on court is very questionable with many of the opinion that that sort of honour should be handed out after a career has in fact ended.
While there is no doubt that he deserves to be remembered in that manner, the FFT’s timing is wrong and gives out a rather preferential message to the other players!
Nadal starts his bid for that 14th title against Canadian Alexei Popyryn, the world number 62. And his most likely quarter-final opponent is Russia’s Andrei Rublev who defeated him at the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
Djokovic meanwhile, kicks off against 66th ranked Tennys Sandgren of the US in his bid for a second French Open title, his 19th overall and become the first man in over half a century to win all four majors on more than one occasion.
The Serb is currently preparing for his Parisienne journey in his home-town of Belgrade where he is competing in their ATP250 event where he is one match away from the final.
However, he displayed a certain amount of stress during his opening match against Lucky Loser Mats Moraing of Germany, the world No.253, earlier this week when he smashed his racket and picked up a Penalty Point before eventually quelling his opponent in straight sets.
Djokovic will be mindful that he has lost three finals to Nadal at the Bois de Boulogne site, in 2012, 2014 and then last year where the Spaniard swept to a 6-0 6-2 7-5 victory.
Finally, with regard to the Big Three, Roger Federer, seeded eighth, is a possible quarter-final opponent for the world number one but the 39-year-old Swiss icon has played a total of three matches in the last 15 months, and it would be a surprise if he made a deep run, let alone the last eight – but everything is possible! He opens against a qualifier and his second opponent could be fellow veteran and former US Open champion Marin Cilic.
Russia’s second seed Daniil Medvedev, who has lost on all four occasions he has played at Roland Garros, will hope to secure his first win when he faces Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan in his opening match.
Meanwhile two-time runner-up, Austria’s Dominic Thiem , seeded four, begins his campaign against Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar who defeated Federer last week in Geneva in the Swiss’ only appearance on clay this year.
British interest will centre on Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie who have both produced some surprising clay court performances this season.
Evans, who is seeded 25th though ranked 26, shocked the world number one by beating Djokovic on his way to reaching the Monte Carlo Masters semi-finals last month, despite previously having won only four matches on clay in his career.
Now the 31-year-old is aiming for – as a minimum – his first main-draw win at Roland Garros when he faces Miomir Kecmanovic, the world No.48 from Serbia,
Norrie has reached the third round at the past two Grand Slams and looks a decent bet to continue that form in Paris especially as he will start against a qualifier.
Only Tsitsipas and Rublev have claimed more ATP match wins than the 25-year-old this year with the British No2, world ranked 49, boasting a 14-4 win-loss record on the clay this year, having reached the finals at Estoril and Lyon.