Gasps of disbelief could be heard during Thursday night’s ceremony at Roland Garros when the special guest Quentin Fillon Maillet, a double Olympic gold medallist in the biathlon at Beijing 2022, pulled out the numbered balls corresponding to the top three men’s singles contenders in Paris this year.
Djokovic, the defending champion and world No 1, could play his arch-rival Nadal as early as the quarter-finals. This had only become possible on Monday when Nadal dropped one spot to No 5 in the world rankings after his defeat by Denis Shapovalov in the third round of the Italian Open last week.Although Nadal has won the title here 13 times, the seedings are based on the world rankings across all surfaces rather than previous clay-court form.
The winner of a potential match-up between Djokovic and Nadal could then play Alcaraz in the semi-finals. The 19-year-old from Spain is already ranked No 6 in the world after winning 16 of his past 17 matches and was hailed by Alexander Zverev as the “best player in the world now” after defeating the German to win the Madrid Open.
Nadal is never one to look too far ahead but even he must have cursed his luck last night. The 35-year-old started the year on a high by winning a record 21st men’s singles grand-slam title at the Australian Open but has struggled in recent weeks because of chronic pain in his right foot.
By contrast, Djokovic is not short of confidence and fitness after his Italian Open triumph. He was warmly welcomed to the stage last night by the French Open organisers, which is somewhat ironic considering that he was deported from Australia before the most recent grand-slam tournament in January because of his unvaccinated status.
There are no similar restrictions in Paris for those who have not received a Covid-19 jab. “It is always a pleasure to come to Roland Garros,” Djokovic said. “I am very motivated to play my best. In Paris historically, I played very hard. Last year it was the toughest major I won.”private jet.