Alcaraz, Djokovic on same half of French draw

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PARIS — Carlos Alcaraz and the man he just replaced atop the rankings, 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, were placed in the same half of the French Open field in Thursday’s draw and could face each other in the semifinals.

Alcaraz is seeded No. 1 at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time and was automatically placed in the top section of the bracket. Djokovic is No. 3 and so could have ended up on either half — had he landed in the bottom, he and Alcaraz could only have met in the final at Roland Garros, where 14-time champion Rafael Nadal will be missing for the first time since he made his debut at the clay-court major in 2005.

Play begins Sunday.

Typically, the previous year’s singles champions are invited to appear at the draw, so 2022 women’s winner Iga Swiatek was present Thursday. Nadal, of course, was not. Still, he was the first player mentioned at the outset of the ceremony by French Tennis Federation president Gilles Morreton, who noted, “Unfortunately, he cannot play the tournament this year.”

Swiatek did not appear to show any ill effects from the hurt right thigh that caused her to stop playing in the third set of her quarterfinal match in Rome last weekend. She indicated almost immediately that the issue would not prevent her from competing in Paris, where she has won two of her three major trophies.

“It’s like my favorite tournament in the whole year, so I’m always excited to come back,” said Swiatek, who has been ranked No. 1 for more than a year. “Before the tournament, I get this extra motivation to practice harder, to make everything better.”

The draw put her in a potential quarterfinal against No. 6 Coco Gauff in what would be a rematch of last year’s French Open final.

Alcaraz, who just turned 20, and Djokovic, who just turned 36, have played each other just once previously, in the semifinals of the Madrid Open in May 2022. Alcaraz won that one 6-7 (5), 7-5, 7-6 (5) — a day after beating Nadal in the quarterfinals, becoming the first player to defeat both Djokovic and Nadal at the same clay-court tournament. Alcaraz went on to collect the title there with a straight-sets victory over Alexander Zverev in the final.

It was Zverev who ended Alcaraz’s 14-match winning streak in the French Open quarterfinals last year. That was also the round where Nadal stopped Djokovic in a four-set, four-hour thriller.

This time, the men’s quarterfinals by seeding would be Alcaraz, the reigning US Open champion, against No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, a two-time Slam finalist; Djokovic against No. 7 Andrey Rublev; No. 2 Daniil Medvedev, the 2021 US Open winner, against No. 8 Jannik Sinner; and No. 4 Casper Ruud, runner-up at the French Open and US Open last year, against No. 6 Holger Rune.

Other women’s matchups in that round could be No. 4 Elena Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, against No. 7 Ons Jabeur, a two-time major finalist; No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka, who won the Australian Open in January, against No. 5 Caroline Garcia; and No. 3 Jessica Pegula vs. No. 8 Maria Sakkari.

One player who would have been seeded, 29th-ranked Paula Badosa, pulled out before the draw, saying she got a stress fracture in her spine during the Italian Open.

Swiatek will begin her tournament with a meeting against Cristina Bucsa, a Spanish player ranked 67th whose career record at the French Open is 0-1.

Some intriguing first-round matches include Sabalenka against Marta Kostyuk, Pegula against 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, and Victoria Azarenka against Bianca Andreescu in a showdown between past Grand Slam champions.

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