Facebook Social Button Twitter Social Button Follow Us on InstagramYouTube Social Button
NewsScoresRankingsLucky Letcord PodcastShopPro GearPickleballGear Sale

By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Thursday, May 23, 2024


Seismic shock struck Paris: King of Clay Rafael Nadal will face Rome ruler Alexander Zverev in a blockbuster first-round showdown.

Photo credit: Ibrahim Ezzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images

In their last Roland Garros clash, Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev elevated Paris into first-set ecstasy.

Today, the champions are reunited in first-round agony.

Navratilova: Two Changes Can Help Gauff vs. Swiatek

Surround sound came to the Roland Garros draw today.

When King of Clay Nadal was drawn to face two-time Roman ruler Zverev in a first-round Roland Garros blockbuster there were audible gasps and groans reverberating around the room.

Remember, just two years ago Nadal advanced to his 14th Roland Garros final after Zverev crashed to the court suffering a gruesome right ankle injury that forced him to retire with the Spaniard leading 7-6(8), 6-6 in the Roland Garros final.

Now, they revisit the red ghosts of that day with a seismic first-round showdown that could be the Spanish superstar’s final French Open match.

Nadal has won 7 of 10 meetings vs. Zverev, but the world No. 4 is in superior form.

Here are our immediate Top 5 Takeaways from today’s Roland Garros men’s draw.

Is Rafa Nadal’s First-Round Clash His Final French Open Match?

No champion is invincible, but the striking steel statue of Rafa Nadal on Roland Garros’ grounds reminds he’s a tennis terminator on clay.

The former No. 1 has never lost back-to-back matches on clay, however coming off a 6-1, 6-3 Rome loss to Hubert Hurkacz and now opening against Rome champion Zverev, that record will be put to the test.

Zverev will also feel immense pressure in this one, given the pain he suffered tearing up his ankle ligaments in his last Roland Garros meeting with Nadal and the fact he left the Eternal City as a leading contender to capture his maiden major in Paris.

So in addition to the physical issues at play—Nadal is competing a year after undergoing hip surgery and battled an abdominal issue earlier this spring and Zverev played through a finger injury in Rome—the emotional and psychological factors could play a major part in this match where the entire sports world will likely be watching.

Remember, Zverev was just two points from winning the 2020 US Open championship when he mentally crumbled falling in five sets to Dominic Thiem.

If his moment of truth comes against the king of clay, will Zverev have the conviction to conquer the 14-time French Open champion?

Zverev was nearly untouchable on first serve in the Rome final, but he knows better than all of us than major moments like this one are about a whole lot more than serve and return and forehands and backhands. 

"Nole is going to be at his best. You'll see," Zverev said in Rome. "It's just the way it is.

"Rafa is going to play a lot better than he did in Madrid and Rome. I'm certain about that.

"The other two [Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz], they just depend on health. If they're healthy, they're two of the best players in the world, for sure, and there's no question about it."

The Roland Garros draw also reinforces a cold, hard reality about even elite champion exits.

In tennis, you don’t always get what you deserve, you get what you get.

In this case, Nadal sporting a mind-blowing 112-3 career Roland Garros record, including an immaculate 14-0 French Open finals record, clearly deserved a lot better.

In a sense, you could see this coming when the tournament opted against seeding the greatest clay-court champion in history. You can argue that decision both ways, but it’s inarguable that decision contributed to this result.

The winner of this blockbuster The winner will face either former world No. 8 David Goffin or French wild card Giovanni Mphetshi Perricard in the second round. Also, former Paris Indoors champion Holger Rune is a possible fourth-round opponent for the Nadal vs. Zverev winner.

If Nadal, who owns a 7-4 record this season, beats Zverev his road to a 15th Roland Garros title could look like this:

First round: Alexander Zverev

Round 2: David Goffin

Round 3: Tallon Griekspoor

Round of 16: Holger Rune

Quarterfinals: Daniil Medvedev

Semifinals: Novak Djokovic

Final: Jannik Sinner or Carlos Alcaraz

2. Who is the Greatest Threat to Novak Djokovic’s Title Defense?

Time is the only undefeated opponent in tennis.

Reigning Roland Garros champion Djokovic celebrated his 37th birthday yesterday and will face a swirling swarm of questions on the red dirt, including: Has age finally caught up to the GOAT, who has struggled this season and been staggered by lower-ranked opponents?

There’s a lot on the line for Djokovic, who opens against French wild card and doubles standout Pierre-Hugues Herbert, and must go deep to retain the world No. 1 ranking with Jannik Sinner closing fast.

Three-time champion Djokovic could face two-time finalist Casper Ruud in a Roland Garros quarterfinal rematch of the 2023 final. Before that, Djokovic could face Frenchman Gael Monfils or 30th-seeded Italian Lorenzo Musetti, who once pushed the Serbian superstar to five sets at Roland Garros. Both Ruud and Musetti have defeated Djokovic on red clay in Monte-Carlo.

Because of Djokovic and Nadal's struggles this season and the injury uncertainty looming over Australian Open champion Jannik Sinner and Wimbledon winner Carlos Alcaraz, Hall of Famer and Tennis Channel analyst Martina Navratilova predicts we could see the most volatile men's tournament in years.

"It's a crazy men's tournament because there's so much unpredictability at this time, including Novak, because obviously he's playing this week in Geneva as a wild card," Navratilova told the media in a Tennis Channel conference call earlier this week. "Decided he needed to get some more matches in because he wasn't that successful and didn't play that many tournaments, and so feels he needs some more match play."

Navratilova asserts if Sinner and Alcaraz are banged up, Djokovic becomes a bigger favorite despite his struggles.

"But then the other guys are questionable, or maybe they end up being 100 percent but we don't know," Navratilova told the media. "So the unknowns are pretty large right now, and obviously if injuries come into play, then Novak is an even bigger favorite to win.

"If everybody is healthy, then I think it could be, should be an interesting tournament. I think it'll be fascinating anyway to see who comes through. But Novak, it's been Novak against the field in all the majors other than the French Open. But now that Rafa is obviously not playing his best tennis, he's the favorite even on the clay."

3. Who is Most Likely to win a Maiden Roland Garros?

Start at the bottom of the draw with world No. 2 Jannik Sinner, who has been the best player this season when healthy.

Australian Open champion Sinner, who was forced out of Rome with a hip issue and has spent recent weeks rehabbing, opens vs. big-serving American Christopher Eubanks. Sinner would face either Borna Coric or Frenchman Richard Gasquet in round two and if seeds hold true to form and his health holds up, the hard-hitting Italian could face Rome finalist Nicolas Jarry in the fourth round with Hubert Hurkacz, who defeated Sinner to win his first Masters 1000 at the Miami Open, a quarterfinal opponent.

Wimbledon winner Carlos Alcaraz also skipped Rome to nurse a forearm injury that has hampered his ability to hammer his forehand.

Fortunately for Alcaraz, who opens vs. a lucky loser, he should be able to work his way into this tournament and try to find his form.

If seeds hold true to form, the 2023 Roland Garros semifinalist Alcaraz would face US Open semifinalist Ben Shelton in the fourth round with Mutua Madrid Open champion Andrey Rublev awaiting Alcaraz in the quarterfinals.

Don't discount Alcaraz (if healthy), who grew up on red clay, is a two-time Madrid champion with clay wins over Nadal, Djokovic and Zverev and nearly always delivers the passion and shot-making dazzle at Slams.

What are the odds of seeing a maiden major champion prevail in Paris next month?

It could well happen.

In fact, given there are only three former singles champions in the men’s field—Djokovic, Nadal and 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka—you can argue it’s likely we will see a maiden French Open men’s champion.

We’ve seen three different players win the three ATP 1000 clay-court championships this spring—Stefanos Tsitsipas (Monte-Carlo), Andrey Rublev (Madrid) and Alexander Zverev (Rome)—and all three are capable of a deep run in Paris where Tsitsipas reached the 2021 final and built a two-set lead over Djokovic before bowing in five.

4. Who Are the Dark Horses?

We define dark horses as players outside the Top 20 seeds.

No. 24 Alejandro Tabilo (CHI)—When you can beat Grand Slam king Djokovic as decisively as Tabilo did in Rome, you know you can take down anyone on dirt. The Toronto-born Tabilo can bang the ball off both things, slides his sharp-angled lefty serve wide on the ad side, moves smoothly and has tremendous touch which he showed with dazzling droppers.

No. 23 Francisco Cerundolo (ARG)—The Buenos Aires-born baseliner can crack one of the bigger forehands in the game when he’s confident. Cerundolo can be up and down, but his ups are very high as he showed in Madrid defeating Tommy Paul and Alexander Zverev back-to-back to reach the quarterfinals where he pushed Taylor Fritz to three sets. Cerundolo has a tough opener vs. Yannick Hanfmann and must bear the pressure of defending his 2023 fourth-round result, but if he gets hot watch out.

No. 21 Felix Auger-Aliassime (CAN)—The athletic Canadian can go to extremes on dirt. Auger-Aliassime has played the French Open four times and failed to survive the first round three times. Auger-Aliassime faces another first-round hurdle in Yoshihito Nishioka, whom the Canadian fought off in three sets in Madrid this month. This opener is a rematch of the 2020 French Open first round, which Nishioka won in straight sets. So why pick the enigmatic Auger-Aliassime? Because he has the weapons to get on a roll as he showed powering to the Madrid final (albeit aided by Sinner’s withdrawal) and should carry confidence from that surge.

The French Open finals have given us long-shot success stories in the past.

Twenty-one years ago, a 46th-ranked Martin Verkerk reached the French Open final in his first appearance in Paris, falling to Juan Carlos Ferrero, who is Carlos Alcaraz’s long-time coach.

World No. 44 Gaston Gaudio made history saving two match points to outduel Argentinean compatriot Guillermo Coria, 0–6, 3–6, 6–4, 6–1, 8–6, in the 2004 final becoming the first man to win a Grand Slam after being bageled in the first set of the final.

When the young Rafael Nadal broke through to capture his first French Open title, he beat an unlikely left-handed finalist, Mariano Puerta, who later served a partial doping suspension.

5. First-Rounders to Watch

Rafael Nadal (ESP) vs. (4) Alexander Zverv (GER)
Head-to-head: Nadal leads 7-3

Andy Murray (GBR) vs. Stan Wawrinka (SUI)
Head-to-head: Murray leads 13-9

Felix Auger Aliassime (CAN) vs. Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN)
Head-to-head: Auger-Aliassime leads 3-2.

5. Where Can I Watch Roland Garros?

Of course, stay tuned to Tennis Now for live scoring and live reports from Paris from TN lead writer Chris Oddo, who has been covering the the tournament since the first ball of qualifying for both Tennis Now and

In the U.S. Tennis Channel and NBC are the host broadcasters.


For the country-by-country breakdown of broadcasters, please visit:


Latest News