Tough road ahead for Alcaraz in French Open title quest

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Carlos Alcaraz and the man he just replaced atop the world rankings, Novak Djokovic, have been placed in the same half of the French Open field and could face each other in the semi-final.

Alcaraz is seeded No.1 at a grand slam for the first time and was automatically placed in the top section of the bracket.

Djokovic is No.3 and so could have ended up on either half. Had he landed in the bottom, he and Alcaraz only could have met in the final at Roland Garros, where injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal is missing for the first time since his 2005 debut.

Typically, the previous year's singles champions are invited to appear at the draw, so 2022 women's winner Iga Swiatek was present in Paris on Thursday, but Nadal was absent.

Swiatek did not appear to show any ill effects from the hurt right thigh that caused her to stop playing in the third set of her quarter-final in Rome last weekend and indicated that the issue would not prevent her from competing in Paris, where she has won two of her three major trophies.

"It's like my favourite tournament in the whole year, so I'm always excited to come back," said Swiatek.

"Before the tournament, I get this extra motivation to practice harder, to make everything better."

The draw put her in a potential quarter-final against Coco Gauff in what would be a rematch of last year's final.

Alcaraz, who just turned 20, and 36-year-old Djokovic have played each other just once previously, in the semi-finals of the Madrid Open in May 2022, which the Spaniard edged in a tough three-setter.

This year, the men's quarter-finals by seeding would be US Open champ Alcaraz, against Stefanos Tsitsipas, Djokovic against Andrey Rublev, Daniil Medvedev against Jannik Sinner and Casper Ruud, runner-up last year, against Holger Rune.

The women's match-ups in that round are scheduled to feature Elena Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, against Ons Jabeur, Australian Open champ Aryna Sabalenka against home hope Caroline Garcia and Jessica Pegula against Maria Sakkari.

One player who would have been seeded, 29th-ranked Paula Badosa, pulled out before the draw, saying she got a stress fracture in her spine during the Italian Open.

Swiatek will begin her tournament with a meeting against Cristina Bucsa, a Spaniard ranked 67th who lost her only previous match at Roland Garros.

Some intriguing first-rounders include Sabalenka against Marta Kostyuk, Pegula against 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, and Victoria Azarenka against Bianca Andreescu in a showdown between past grand slam champions.

Nadal may not have been present but his shadow hangs over the event. "It's going to be an emotional edition after (tournament director) Amelie Mauresmo received a call from Rafael Nadal saying he could not take part in the tournament," French federation president Gilles Moretton said.

"It will also be emotional because it marks the 40th anniversary of Yannick Noah's triumph at Roland Garros."

No French man has won the singles' title since 1983 and it would take a miracle to see one of them lift the Musketeers Cup on June 11.

With Reuters