Roland-Garros nightmare for Osaka and Djokovic

Naomi Osaka will not have the luxury of easing into her return to the courts at Roland-Garros, facing a tough foe in her very first match.

Week two in Paris, meanwhile, could be quite fascinating for Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz — the three leading favorites for the men’s title ended up on the same side of the bracket for the clay-court grand slam tournament, meaning only one can reach the final.

The draw at Roland-Garros also set up two tantalising possibilities in the fourth round for No.1-ranked Iga Swiatek, the 2020 champion who is currently on a 28-match winning streak. She might need to go up against 2018 champion Simona Halep at that stage or 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko — who just so happens to be the last woman to defeat Swiatek.

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The tournament begins Monday (AEST).

Osaka is a four-time grand slam champion who used to be No.1 in the rankings but has slipped to No.38 in part because of a lack of activity. That included time off for a mental health break after she withdrew from Roland-Garros ahead of her second-round match last year, revealing that she has dealt with anxiety and depression.

Because she is not seeded in Paris, she was not safe from facing a seeded opponent right away, so that’s what will happen against No.27 Amanda Anisimova, a 20-year-old American who was a 2019 semi finalist in Paris.

Anisimova won their third-round encounter at the Australian Open in January by a score of 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5). Osaka was the defending champion at Melbourne Park.

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The possible women’s quarter finals in Paris are Swiatek against two-time major runner-up Karolina Pliskova, and No.3 seed Paula Badosa against No.7 Aryna Sabalenka on the top half of the field, and defending champion Barbora Krejcikova against No.5 Anett Kontaveit, and No.4 Maria Sakkari against No.6 Ons Jabeur in the bottom half.

Last year, in her first time in the main draw of singles at Roland-Garros, Krejcikova won both that trophy — the player she beat in the final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, announced this week her season is done because of an injured knee — along with women’s doubles.

So it makes sense that Krejcikova used phrases such as “extremely amazing” and “something incredible” while discussing what happened in 2021 during a brief appearance at the draw ceremony and noted with a smile: “This clay suits me.”

Nadal, he of the 13 titles on the red stuff in Paris, and Djokovic, a two-time champion, could say the same, of course.

Djokovic, who is the defending champion and seeded No.1, could meet Nadal in the quarter finals. A year ago, Djokovic beat Nadal in the semi finals, before erasing a two-set deficit against Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the final.

“I am very motivated to play my best tennis,” Djokovic said in French, as he marked his chance to get back on the grand slam stage after missing the Australian Open because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 (Roland-Garros has no such requirement).

“Last year in Paris was the perfect result. Roland-Garros was maybe the hardest of my career — of all the grand slams I have won,” he said. “Very emotional, tiring, but at the end, the result arrived.”

Nadal leads the grand slam title standings among men with 21, one ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer.

If the Djokovic-Nadal showdown happens, the winner could face No. 6 seed Alcaraz in the semi finals. Alcaraz is just 19, recently won the Madrid Open on clay and became the youngest man to break into the top 10 in the rankings since Nadal in 2005.

Alcaraz could meet No.3 seed Alexander Zverev in quarter finals.

The potential quarter finals on the other half of the bracket are No.2 Daniil Medvedev against No.7 Andrey Rublev — two Russians who will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon because of that country’s invasion of Ukraine — and No. 4 Tsitsipas against No .8 Casper Ruud.

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