French Open Draw Analysis: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal in Same Half

Djokovic Nadal French Open

The 2021 French Open men’s singles draw has been released, and it served up to quench a tennis craving of a lifetime. All members of the Big 3 will be participants of the clay Slam–if not all of them contenders–for the first time since the 2019 edition of the tournament. And the trio have been packed in the same half–which means Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer will all play on the same day. If the seedings hold, we could see a Djokovic-Federer encounter as early as the quarterfinal, with the winner potentially facing the 13-time King of Clay Rafael Nadal.

On that note, here is how the draw could pan out, and who will wrestle the crown out of Nadal’s hands?

French Open Draw Analysis

Top half, first quarter: Djokovic and Federer on a collision course in the quarterfinals

Novak Djokovic is the top seed and that is where we begin. The 2016 champion will face the delightfully named American from Tennessee, Tennys Sandgren, in a harmless opening round. Djokovic’s path to the quarterfinals is littered with players struggling for form. The highest-seeded player he could face before the last eight is David Goffin. Although Goffin has tasted success over the Serb on the surface before, he has won just two matches in his last three tournaments. And in fairness, Goffin who is seeded at 13th, could quite easily go out at the hands of Lorenzo Musetti in the first round.

Roger Federer will mark his return to Grand Slam tennis for the first time since losing the semifinals of the Australian Open in 2020 to Djokovic. The pair are projected to meet in a mouthwatering quarterfinal here, but it could just be a fanciful projection.

Federer is still short of match practice, highlighted by early losses in Doha and Geneva during his comeback from knee surgery. He has been given a generous opener to start with, against a qualifier. However, we could draw a line, as one of those qualifiers may be the talented young Spaniard Carlos Alcaraz. Assuming Federer’s big-match experience comes out on top, he will renew his rivalry with former US Open champion Marin Cilic. Cilic and Federer have headlined two Grand Slam finals before, but this would be a second-round match clearly illustrating the Croat’s fall from grace. However, Cilic could have his hands full when he plays French wild card Arthur Rinderknech in the first round.

If Federer can somehow string back-to-back wins, he could set a third-round meeting against American Taylor Fritz. The American is not a natural clay-courter by any means, and given Federer’s history against Americans, it is feasible the Swiss might sneak into the fourth round.

Italian hopes will rest firmly on Matteo Berrettini‘s broad shoulders. The man from the Eternal city is seeded ninth and is Federer’s projected fourth-round opponent. But that is based on the assumption Berrettini will overcome a tough hurdle in the third round, potentially against Felix Auger-Aliassime. The young Canadian will play in his first Major under the tutelage of Toni Nadal.

Projected quarterfinal: Novak Djokovic (1) vs Matteo Berrettini (9)

Top half, second quarter: All eyes on Rafael Nadal as he starts the defense of his title

Rafael Nadal has won this tournament an astonishing 13 times, and there is no superlative in existence that could do his immeasurable success justice on the terre battue. And any player who entertains the idea of winning the tournament will once again have to walk through the Spaniard.

Nadal will be the immovable object in this quarter, starting his title defense against Australia’s fast-rising star Alexei Popyrin. The Spaniard beat Popyrin a few weeks ago at the Madrid Masters in the lead up to Roland Garros and should do the same in Paris. He will then play the winner of the “Gas Derby”–an all-French affair between Hugo Gaston and Richard Gasquet–in the second round. Gasquet is 1-16 against Nadal in their previous 17 matches.

It will be the names below that, which will be food for thought for the 20-time Grand Slam champion. Andrey Rublev is a potential quarterfinal opponent. The Russian knocked him out at the Monte Carlo Masters in April. The quarter is also loaded with power, finesse, and flair. The likes of Aslan Karatsev, Jannik Sinner, and Gael Monfils are lurking.

Projected quarterfinal: Rafael Nadal (3) vs Andrey Rublev (7)

Bottom half, third quarter: Zverev’s looks to unlock a window of opportunity

Could this be Alexander Zverev’s most favorable draw at a Grand Slam? On a second look, it seems so. The German arrives in Paris on the back of an excellent run of results on clay. He won the Madrid Masters earlier this month, upsetting Rafael Nadal in the process. He plays two qualifiers on the trot. And then in the third round, he could play one of Dan Evans, Miomir Kecmanovic, Laslo Djere, or Corentin Moutet.

His first substantial test will likely come in the fourth round. Kei Nishikori and the 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut are potential challengers. However, Zverev owns a winning head-to-head record against both of them.

Moving on, Casper Ruud is a name that really excites me. The 22-year-old Norwegian has compiled a career-best season on the tour and we are not even in June yet. Ruud has won 20 matches this year, a second career title in Geneva, and made three successive semifinals on the clay (Monte Carlo, Munich, and Madrid).

Then there is a name that could light fireworks. Alejandro Davidovich Fokina has notched some impressive results on the dirt including a first-time quarterfinal showing at an ATP Masters 1000 event. Although he could have his work cut out when he meets Casper Ruud in the third round.

Dominic Thiem completes the third quarter. The Austrian is a two-time finalist at the French Open, but he has been far from his vintage best in 2021. Thiem needed a sabbatical earlier this year to refresh and recover from his post-US Open hangover and physical issues. He is a lowly 9-8 for the season but should account for Pablo Andujar in his opener. Thiem will likely need to subdue the colossal toss and topspin of Federico Delbonis in the second round. The Argentine has won a tour-leading 22 match wins on clay at the time of writing (due to play in Belgrade semis), but will have little left in the tank at Roland Garros. Plus, he has never beaten Thiem before (0-2).
Projected quarterfinal: Alexander Zverev (6) vs Casper Ruud (15)

Bottom half, fourth quarter: Tsitsipas looks to build on from last year’s semifinal loss

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the semifinals at last year’s event and he could be a smart pick to reach the showpiece at the end of the fortnight. He opens up against Jeremy Chardy. Clay is hardly the Frenchman’s strong point. Things could get tricky for the Greek if he meets Sebastian Korda in the second round. The young American reached the fourth round at last year’s French Open as a qualifier. But Korda will need to get past clay-court campaigner Pedro Martinez before contemplating the upset.

Daniil Medvedev is seeded second, ahead of Rafael Nadal, thanks in part to the absurd ranking system. Medvedev has had a turbulent time on his brief appearances on clay this term. His preparation began in the worst possible manner after returning a positive coronavirus test on the eve of the Monte Carlo Masters. He recovered and returned in Madrid, but made public of his loathing for the surface.

It is no coincidence that Medvedev has not won a match at Roland Garros in his four previous attempts, and honestly, he might succumb again. The Russian drew the flamboyant Kazakh Alexander Bublik in the first round. The field of players in his section include the likes of Grigor Dimitrov, Cristian Garin, Reilly Opelka, Jaume Munar, and Tommy Paul. It would be a minor miracle if he survived that minefield.
Projected quarterfinal: Stefanos Tsitsipas (5) vs Reilly Opelka (32)

Main Photo from Getty.

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