Top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Andy Murray stand on opposite ends of the French Open draw, setting up a potentially monumental championship. The pair have performed particularly well on red clay in recent weeks, and both are eager to capture their first title in Paris after dueling in the Australian Open Final in January.
But reaching the final should pose a serious challenge. Djokovic may have to face nine-time French champion Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, while Murray could meet current titleholder Stan Wawrinka in the semis.
On the women’s side, No. 1 Serena Williams will stare down a dangerous gauntlet as she attempts to capture the 22nd Grand Slam title of her career. Assuming she blows past the opening stages, the 34-year-old may have to weave past Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, followed by Angelique Kerber in the semis, and then Agnieszka Radwanska in the final.
But Radwanska has never advanced beyond the quarters in Paris, and neither has Kerber. Azarenka reached the semis in 2013, but the Belarusian bowed out in the third round last year.
While Williams is unquestionably the tournament favorite, the three-time French champion has fallen several times this year. Azarenka took the Indian Wells final over Williams in March, and Kerber upset Williams in the Australian Open final earlier this year.
Williams claimed her singular title this season just last week by upending American Madison Keys on Rome’s clay and she’s appeared in only four tournaments in 2016.
Djokovic’s trail to the championship is far less treacherous compared to Williams. Hoping to reach the final for the fourth time in five years, Djokovic first meets Yen-Hsun Lu in the first round, then one of two currently unknown qualifiers in the second. In the third round he could face Federico Delbonis followed by Roberto Bautista Agut in the fourth round. In the quarterfinals, Tomas Berdych, ranked No. 6 and seeded No. 7, would be the toughest possible opponent.
That would potentially leave Nadal, who suffered his second ever loss at Roland Garros to Djokovic in last year’s quarters, and perhaps Wawrinka or Murray in the final. Of late, Djokovic has had few problems against Nadal with seven-consecutive wins, including their last three matches on red clay.
It's of little secret that Djokovic is desperate to win this tournament. After reaching the finals in 2012, 2014 and 2015, another disappointment in Paris would be especially frustrating.
Murray is currently enjoying perhaps his best year on clay, owning a 12-2 mark and most recently batting back Djokovic in the Italian Open final. The 29-year-old has never reached the French final, but has come close with two consecutive trips to the semifinals.
Murray will face a qualifier in the first round, then possibly Mathias Bourgue in the second, Ivo Karlovic in the third, and the likes of Richard Gasquet, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, lurking in the later rounds. Meanwhile, fifth-ranked Kei Nishikora could await in the quarterfinals. But it will be Wawrinka, who last year played the best tennis of his professional life, who should pose the toughest obstacle for the Scot's road to the final.
Wawrinka enters the tournament as a legitimate dark horse. The 31-year-old has cruised through the competition on his home turf at the Geneva Open, but against tepid competition and after some disappointing efforts in 2016. Should he recapture his form, he can pose a serious threat to repeating as champion, but first he must get past Lukas Rosol, followed by the winner of Martin Klizan and Taro Daniel. Wawrinka's bracket also features some notable French players: Gilles Simon, Jeremy Chady and Lucas Pouille. But the toughest challengers are expect to be either Milos Raonic or Marin Cilic in the quarters.
One of the men’s side big four will unfortunately miss out on the action. Roger Federer, ranked No. 3 in the world, opted out of his first Grand Slam since 1999, snapping his streak of 65 consecutive slams played.
“This decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career,” Federer posted on his official Facebook page.
The 17-time slam champion underwent knee surgery in February and said he hasn’t “100 percent” recovered from a back injury.
1) Novak Djokovic
2) Andy Murray
3) Stan Wawrinka
4) Rafael Nadal
5) Kei Nishikori
6) Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
7) Tomas Berdych
8) Milos Raonic
1) Serena Williams
2) Agnieszka Radwanska
3) Angelique Kerber
4) Garbine Muguruza
5) Victoria Azarenka
6) Simona Halep
7) Roberta Vinci
8) Timea Bacsinszky
A complete look at the draw can be found on the French Open's official site.