WELL, here’s a new one for the Big Three of men’s tennis: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer ended up in the same half of the French Open field.
Thursday’s draw in Paris marks the first time in their long and distinguished careers that Djokovic, Nadal and Federer all are on one side of the bracket at any Grand Slam tournament, according to the International Tennis Federation.
It means that no more than one of them can reach the final at Roland Garros, where play begins Sunday. The trio tops the leaderboard for major men’s singles tennis titles: Federer and Nadal are tied at 20 trophies, while Djokovic has 18. No one else has more than 14.
Nadal beat Djokovic in straight sets in the 2020 final for his record-extending 13th championship on the French Open’s red clay, but if they meet again this time, it would have to be in the semifinals.
Djokovic is seeded No. 1, and Nadal is seeded No. 3—the seedings adhere strictly to the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings, so the Spaniard’s unprecedented previous success in Paris is irrelevant.
The only certainties before the draw were that Djokovic would be on one side and No. 2 Daniil Medvedev on the other; Nadal and No. 4 Dominic Thiem were randomly placed and could have shown up in either half.
What no one knows is how many more Grand Slam tournaments will feature all three of the sport’s top men. Federer, whose record for most weeks at No. 1 in the ATP rankings recently was broken by Djokovic, turns 40 on Aug. 8. Nadal’s 35th birthday is next week; Djokovic’s 34th was last week.
Federer is currently ranked No. 8 after playing only three matches over the past 15 months because of two operations on his right knee. He could meet Djokovic in the quarterfinals.
The other possible quarterfinal on their side is Nadal vs. No. 7 Andrey Rublev.
The two remaining potential quarterfinals are Medvedev vs. No. 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas, and Thiem vs. No. 6 Alexander Zverev.
Medvedev is a two-time Grand Slam finalist but is 0-4 for his French Open career. Thiem won last year’s US Open and twice has been the runner-up in Paris.
Serena Williams, who has won three of her professional-era record 23 Grand Slam titles in Paris, is in a quarter of the women’s draw filled with familiar faces.
That includes possible matchups with three-time major champion Angelique Kerber in the third round, two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova in the fourth, then either two-time Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka or No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals.
Other possible women’s quarterfinals: No. 1 Ash Barty vs. No. 5 Elina Svitolina, No. 4 Sofia Kenin vs. No. 8 Iga Swiatek in what would be a rematch of the 2020 final won by Swiatek, and No. 2 Naomi Osaka vs. No. 6 Bianca Andreesscu.
Four-time major champion Osaka announced Wednesday on Twitter that she would not be doing news conferences during the French Open.
A year after withdrawing from Roland Garros before the second round because of an injured left Achilles, Williams will face 74th-ranked Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania to begin things. They met once before, with Williams winning, on clay in Rome in 2016, the year Begu reached the fourth round in Paris for the deepest French Open run of her career.
Other first-round matches include Swiatek against Kaja Juvan, a 20-year-old from Slovenia who beat Kerber in the first round in Paris last year; Azarenka against another owner of two major trophies, Svetlana Kuznetsova; and Kenin, last year’s Australian Open champion, against 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Nadal and Swiatek are the favorites to win the singles titles, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.