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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, May 25, 2023


A Carlos Alcaraz-Novak Djokovic showdown looms with history at stake in Paris. Our Roland Garros draw winners, dark horses and first-rounders to watch.

Photo credit: Tim Clayton/Getty

The artful aggression of Rafael Nadal's forehand flight is still a fan favorite at the 2023 French Open.

The steel statue of the king of clay casts a monumental shadow over this Roland Garros.

More: Three Men Who Can Win Maiden Major in Paris

For the first time since 2004, Nadal is not playing Paris.

In the 14-time champion's absence, a couple of contenders can create legacy-defining triumph.

The 2023 Roland Garros draw was conducted this afternoon at the Auteuil Greenhouse, a short lob from the striking garden court that is Simonne-Mathieu court.

An audible gasp erupted as Australian Open and Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic was drawn in the same top half of the draw as top-seeded US Open champion Carlos Alcaraz.

Fans can envision a semifinal collision of world No. 1 Alcaraz and No. 3 Djokovic in what would be a historic generational crossroads.

Two-time champion Djokovic is playing for a men's record 23rd major championship.

Alcaraz, who missed the Australian Open in January, is playing for a second straight Slam title and the right to lay claim to the title of Big 3 successor.

There are several other fascinating Parisian plotlines at play, too.

Here are our 5 Takeways from today's Roland Garros men's draw.

Djokovic's Challenge

The son of ski champions, Novak Djokovic must be fast out of the gate and pivot powerfully to take a third Roland Garros title.

On the surface, this Roland Garros was set up to propel Djokovic into history—and halfway to a calendar Grand Slam.

Rival Rafael Nadal's withdrawal cleared the path for Djokovic to capture a men's record 23rd major championship in Paris, right?

Major disruptor Daniil Medvedev's inspired run to his first clay-court title in Rome vaulted him past Djokovic for world No. 2.

That creates the slippery slope you see the 35-year-old Serbian facing in Paris.

If seeds hold true, Djokovic, who opens vs. American Aleksandar Kovacevic, will have to beat world No. 1 Alcaraz in the semifinals before defeating No. 2 Medvedev to capture a historic 23rd Grand Slam.

The only two former men's singles champions in the field—Djokovic and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka—reside in the second quarter of the draw along with Monte-Carlo champion Andrey Rublev, 11th-seeded Karen Khachanov, 13th-seeded Hubert Hurkacz and 20th-seeded Daniel Evans, who owns a clay-court win over the former No. 1.

The good news for Djokovic: No Nadal removes the biggest clay-court obstacle in history from his quest and 20-year-old Holger Rune, who has beaten Djokovic twice in a row including in the Rome quarterfinals, is on the bottom half of the draw.

The six-time French Open finalist was not wearing the elbow sleeve in all of his Rome matches and appears fit for his run at history.

Of course, no one goes the distance quite like Djokovic, who owns an outstanding 37-10 record in five-setters.

Two-time French Open champion and Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier says the best-of-five-set format empowers Djokovic to go on the offensive or provides time to play the waiting game until an opponent's level dips as he's done in the past on dirt.

"I think overall his health and confidence are trending in the right direction and best of five just gives all these supreme players more time to problem-solve if they run into a hot player," Courier told Tennis Now in a Tennis Channel conference call.

The question is if Djokovic does face Alcaraz in a blockbuster semifinal, would he have enough time to wait out the all-court explosiveness of the world No. 1, who edged the Serbian in a 2022 Madrid third-set tiebreaker?

Alcaraz Ambition

In his Miami Open presser, I asked Alcaraz his best surface.

"Hard court," he said without hesitation.

Watching Alcaraz operate on red clay, you can make a case that dirt is the best stage for his dynamic game.

Seven of Alcaraz's 10 career titles have come on red clay.

The question is: How will the 20-year-old Spanish phenom shoulder the pressure that comes with the spotlight of world No. 1?

While the absence of Nadal will put even more attention on Alcaraz, he showed he was up to the challenged successfully defending his titles in Barcelona and Madrid on clay this season.

At Roland Garros, Alcaraz opens against a qualifier and then, if seeds hold true, could face:

R3: (26) Denis Shapovalov
R4:  (14) Cameron Norrie
QF: (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas
SF: (3) Novak Djokovic
F: (2) Daniil Medvedev

The left-handed Norrie owns a clay-court finals win over Alcaraz, but the US Open champion is one of the elite athletes in the field and is arguably more skilled playing all-court tennis than anyone in his path.

Alcaraz does not shrink from his major ambition either: To become an iconic champion.

"Well, my dream on tennis right now is to become one of the best tennis players in history," said Alcaraz. "I know that this is a big dream, probably is too big.

"But in this world, you have to dream big and you have to think big, as well."

Winning a second straight Slam in Paris would propel Alcaraz toward those grand ambitions.

Medvedev Wins Draw

Rome champion Daniil Medvedev trains in France and has a shot to leave a major footprint on this French Open field.

Fresh off his first clay-court championship in Rome where he raced through 12 of 13 sets, Medvedev wins the draw because he avoids Alcaraz and Djokovic until a potential final.

There was a time when Medvedev's Court Philippe Chatrier stays lasted as long as a cartoon artist in the Louvre.

The 2021 US Open champion suffered four straight French Open first-round losses until his 2021 quarterfinal round backed up by a fourth-round result last time.

This month, Medvedev opens against a qualifier, has 27th-seeded Yoshihito Nishioka as his potential first-seeded opponent and resides in the same quarter as 15th-seeded Borna Coric, Olympic gold-medal champion Alexander Zverev and No. 8-seeded Jannik Sinner.

The draw should give Medvedev time to find his clay footing and Court Philippe Chatrier, which is much wider than Rome where Medvedev made his clay breakthrough, should give the lanky Russian much more room from which to generate his deep return positioning.

"The court will definitely help Medvedev," two-time French Open champion and Tennis Channel analyst Jim Courier told Tennis Now. "Center court shots will definitely help him more as far as being able to defend more and feel more comfortable in the sideline exchanges when he is out returning those wide serves.

"He will have space to do that, which he didn't have in Rome, and he was still able to overcome that."

Can Rome fuel a Meddy red-clay resurgence? 

An interesting element of his Rome run is that Medvedev won in chilly, rainy, slow conditions which would not figure to favor his flat strikes. Forecast calls for sunny skies throughout week one in Paris, which will create firmer clay and could also benefit Medvedev.

Ready for Major Launch

Given Rafa Nadal's absence, this Roland Garros is a red-clay launching pad of opportunity.

It's the most wide-open French Open since 2004 when Gaston Gaudio saved championship points driving the emotional stake through the heart of compatriot Guillermo Coria in a wild and crazy all-Argentinean final with Guillermo Vilas presenting the trophy.

Count us among those who do see either Alcaraz or Djokovic emerging as a finalist from the top half.

We see these three talented players capable of breaking through to a major maiden final. The top two are from the bottom half of the draw where 2022 finalist Casper Ruud resides, while the third would need both Djokovic and Alcaraz to falter in the top half.

(6) Holger Rune

(8) Jannik Sinner

(11) Karen Khachanov


Because all three possess three elements essential to Roland Garros Success:

1. Movement, admittedly the 6'6" Khachanov isn't quite as agile as Rune or Sinner.

2. Point-ending power.

3. Major Desire.

The 20-year-old Rune, who opens against American Christopher Eubanks, has declared his desire to win a maiden major this season, preferably as soon as Paris or Wimbledon.

While that may sound brash, consider the Dane has beaten Djokovic twice in a row—in the Paris Masters final and last week's Rome quarterfinals—has contested three finals in four clay-court tournaments this year and won Munich on red clay.

The lanky Sinner, who knocked Alcaraz out of the Miami Open in March in a rematch of their electrifying US Open showdown, reached the 2020 Roland Garros quarterfinals and has made successive fourth-round appearances in Paris. Sinner stings the ball off both wings, is one of the sport's hardest hitters and if he can take care of serve he knows he can go deep.

While former Paris Masters champion Khachanov prefers hard courts, he has been ultra-consistent in the city of light. Khachanov has made the French Open fourth round in five of six appearances, highlighted by his 2019 quarterfinal run. Recently, Khachanov has been bringing his best tennis in majors reaching successive Slam semifinals at the US Open and Australian Open.

No doubt, it will be very tough to extend that run as Khachanov would fave seventh-seeded buddy Andrey Rublev in round four with the winner taking on the third-seeded Djokovic in the quarterfinals.

Dark Horses To Watch

We're defining dark horses as players seeded outside the Top 10 seeds/

No. 17 Lorenzo Musetti

Watching Musetti's sweeping strokes and beguiling creativity is intoxicating.

But beyond the beauty and buzz there is substance. Musetti defeated Djokovic on red clay in Monte-Carlo last month a couple of years after holding a two-set lead over the Serbian at Roland Garros. 

Yes, Musetti, who opens against Mikael Ymer, is in a tough top quarter along with No. 1 Alcaraz.

Remember, last July Musetti beat Alcaraz on red clay in the Hamburg final, 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-4.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo

Picking a man who has zero career wins in Paris as a dark horse may sound like a bit of a stretch.

Picking a man who has combined zero career wins at Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open may sound like the desperate ramblings of a man on the verge of overdosing on Parisian wine and croissants.

Yes, almost every time I see Cerundolo in person he is doing damage with his forehand and often controlling the center of the court.

Cerundolo has done almost nothing in majors, but he owns career wins over 2022 French Open finalist Casper Ruud, Jannik Sinner, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Cameron Norrie and more. When he's firing his forehand with damaging intent, Cerundolo is a threat and when he's not he's a potential first-round casualty.

Who's Out?

King of Clay Rafael Nadal, former world No. 1 Andy Murray and Wimbledon finalist Nick Kyrgios each withdrew.

Three lucky losers will gain entry into men's singles draw due to the withdrawals of Cristian Garin, Kyle Edmund and Jeremy Chardy today. 

A total of 19 qualifiers will contest the 128-player men's singles draw. 

First-Rounders To Watch

(10) Felix Auger-Aliassime
(CAN) vs. Fabio Fognini (ITA)

Mackenzie McDonald (USA) vs. (24) Sebastian Korda (USA)

(3) Novak Djokovic (SRB) vs. Aleksandar Kovacevic (USA) 

(5) Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE) vs. Jiri Vesely (CZE)

(WC) Arthur Fils (FRA) vs. (29) Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (ESP)

(13) Hubert Hurkacz (POL) vs. David Goffin (BEL) 

Stan Wawrinka (SUI) vs. Albert Ramos-Vinolas (ESP)

(6) Holger Rune vs. Christopher Eubanks (USA) 

(21) Jan-Lennard Struff (GER) vs. Jiri Lehecka (CZE)

(12) Frances Tiafoe (USA) vs. Filip Krajinovic (SRB) 



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