Winning On Clay, Again, Nadal Enters 2019 French Open As Definitive Favorite

Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros (photo: Corinne Dubreuil / FFT)

PARIS, May 23, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

Eleven-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal will try to win his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires trophy, symbolizing the victories of four famous French tennis players (Jacques Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste) who make up the “Four Musketeers,” over the next two weeks at Roland Garros.

The World No. 2, who captured his first clay title of the year last week at Rome, comes into Paris as the definitive favorite on red clay. The 128-player draw revealed Thursday evening favors Nadal, who will begin defense of his 2018 title against a qualifier, and he would also face a qualifier in the second round, too.

The French fortnight begins on the rebuilt Court Philippe-Chatrier Sunday and continues through June 9.

Much has been said and written about Nadal, the King of Clay, but here’s something worth noting, courtesy of The Tennis Podcast co-host David Law – especially after last week’s latest meltdown by mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios: “I find it extraordinary, for instance, that after 1,153 tennis matches, Rafael Nadal has never thrown his racquet in frustration,” Law tweeted.

“It’s not the racquet’s fault,” Nadal told Law.

Further, Nadal said to the British broadcaster: “There are kids that would love to have this racquet, so no, I am not going to break a racquet. If I lose, it is me that loses, not the racquet’s fault.”

It’s good to know that despite not winning his first title of the year until five days ago at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Nadal comes to the City of Lights focused and ready to win. As the draw unfolded for the 2019 French Open, Nadal’s path to a record-extending 12th Roland Garros titles looks something like this:

First round vs. Qualifier
Second round vs. Qualifier
Third round vs. No. 27 seed David Goffin
Fourth round vs. No. 15 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili
Quarterfinals vs. No. 7 seed Kei Nishikori
Semifinals vs. No. 3 seed Roger Federer
Finals vs. No. 1 Novak Djokovic

The men’s and women’s singles draws took place in the Orangerie building, located in the Jardin des Serres d’Auteil, complete with a lovely touch of jazz music for a nice effect. It was broadcast across multiple TV and online platforms as well as projected on the giant screen outside Court Suzanne-Lenglen. French sporting legend Teddy Riner, a judo gold medalist in the 100kg category at both the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Olympic Games, assisted with the draw ceremony.

With the seedings based upon the current ATP and WTA rankings through Rome, it placed World No. 1 Novak Djokovic atop the 128-player men’s singles draw with World No. 2 Nadal at the bottom. The biggest mystery going in was which halves of the draw would No. 3 Roger Federer (lower) and No. 4 Dominic Thiem (upper) be placed. As it happened, Djokovic was drawn against No. 43 Hubert Hurkacz of Poland for his first-round match while Nadal was draw to face a qualifier. Federer will open against No. 73 Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, and Thiem will face American wild card Tommy Paul, ranked No. 136.

No. 5 Alexander Zverev, No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 7 Kei Nishikori, and No. 8 Juan Martín del Potro complete the Top 8 seeds. First-time ATP Masters 1000 champions – Fabio Fognini (Monte-Carlo) and Karen Khachanov (Paris) – are seeded ninth and 10th.

The rest of the top 16 seeds include: No. 11 Marin Cilic, No. 12 Daniil Medvedev, No. 13 Borna Coric, No. 14 Gaël Monfils, No. 15 Nikoloz Basilashvili and No. 16 Marco Cecchinato.

There are five #NextGenATP players seeded, including: 20-year-old Tsitsipas at No. 6, No. 21 Denis Shapovalov, No. 22 Alex de Minaur, No. 26 Felix Auger-Aliassime, and No. 32 Frances Tiafoe.

If the seeds go according to projection – never a sure thing in a Grand Slam – the quarterfinals would shape up like this:

No. 1 Djokovic vs. No. 5 Zverev
No. 4 Thiem vs. No. 8 del Potro
No. 6 Tsitsipas vs. No. 3 Federer
No. 7 Nishikori vs. No. 2 Nadal

Appearing on stage during the draw ceremony, Nadal answered spoke in both French and English. He said, “I’m happy to be here again. I am improving, doing new things. I’m pleased with what Roland Garros is doing to improve our sport.”

Meanwhile, women’s No. 1 Naomi Osaka, who has won the last two Grand Slams (U.S. Open and Australian Open) is the top seed while surprising Rome champion Karolina Pliskova has climbed to No. 2. Former No. 1 and defending French Open champion Simona Halep, seeded third, was placed in the upper half while No. 4 Kiki Bertens, who won Madrid two weeks ago and was a semifinalist at both Stuttgart and Rome earlier this spring, was slotted in the bottom half.

Top seed Osaka will play her first-round match against No. 92 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia while No. 2 seed Pliskova will face No. 97 Madison Brengle of the United States.

The rest of the top 16 seeds are: No. 3 Halep, No. 4 Bertens, No. 5 Angelique Kerber, No. 6 Petra Kvitova, No. 7 Sloane Stephens, No. 8 Ashleigh Barty, No. 9 Elina Svitolina, No. 10 Serena Williams, No. 11 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova, No. 13 Caroline Wozniacki, No. 14 Madison Keys, No. 15 Belinda Bencic and No. 16 Wang Qiang.

Of interest, unseeded Venus Williams ranked No. 52, will face Svitolina in the first round and Serena Williams will oppose No. 82 Vitalia Diatchenko of Russia in just Serena’s second clay-court match of the season. She could oppose Osaka in the quarterfinals during the second week.

Among one of the most interesting first-round encounters will be 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, ranked 40th, facing two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka, currently ranked 44th. The winner would take on Osaka in the second round.

Halep, who was interviewed on stage following the women’s draw, has played in each of the past two French Open finals, losing in 2017 to Ostapenko and beating Stephens last year. Halep said, “Last year was the best memory on court. Finally, I could touch (the trophy). It was an amazing moment and memory for me. I’m really happy coming back, happy to be fit, and I hope I can win some matches.”