Photo by Associated Press.
Originally Published: May 20, 2016 6:06 p.m.
PARIS — In his quest to complete a career Grand Slam, Novak Djokovic could have to beat nine-time champion Rafael Nadal in the French Open semifinals.
Djokovic, who will face 100th-ranked Lu Yen-hsun in the first round, was put in the same side of the draw as Nadal on Friday. The top-ranked Serb beat Nadal in the quarterfinals last year, the Spaniard’s second loss of his career at Roland Garros.
Defending champion Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray could meet in the other semifinal match.
In the women’s draw, Serena Williams’ attempt to equal Steffi Graf’s professional era record of 22 major titles includes a possible quarterfinal match against Victoria Azarenka.
Djokovic has lost in the final on the red clay in three of the last four years. But winning the French Open would give him four consecutive major championships, something no man has achieved since Rod Laver won a true Grand Slam in 1969.
“Of course the expectations are big not just from my side but from people around knowing that this is the only Grand Slam I never won,” Djokovic said. “Of course people are very eager to find out whether or not I can make it this year, and that kind of anticipation existed and it was present also in the last couple of years.”
Djokovic arrives in the French capital with a 37-3 record, but on the back of a loss to Murray in the Italian Open final. He won a title on clay this season in Madrid, defeating Murray in final.
“I got 10 matches out of two weeks, which is maximum I could get out of Madrid and Rome, and it was a perfect way of getting the match play that I needed before French Open,” Djokovic said.
Murray is seeded second for the first time at Roland Garros and will face qualifier Radek Stepanek in his first match.
“It’s only two days out from the start of the tournament and I don’t know who I’m playing against yet,” Murray said about playing a qualifier. “So you don’t have as much time to start preparing for it and that’s what makes it tricky.
“The positives are that often a lot of the qualifiers maybe have not played on the bigger courts and stuff and maybe you can capitalize a bit on that at the beginning if they are a little bit nervous.”
Because of Roger Federer’s withdrawal, Nadal has been seeded No. 4, avoiding a possible quarterfinal rematch against Djokovic. Chasing his first major title since winning in Paris two years ago, Nadal takes on big server Sam Groth in the first round.
“I need to be ready to suffer a little bit during the match, because I know it’s going to be difficult to have breaks,” Nadal said.
Djokovic should have few problems before the fourth round, where 14th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut could be waiting.
Williams, the defending champion in Paris, will open against 76th-ranked Magdalena Rybarikova.
Before a potential quarterfinal match against Azarenka, the top-ranked American might also have to face Kristina Mladenovic and former champion Ana Ivanovic. In the semifinals, Williams could then be pitted against third-seeded Angelique Kerber, who beat her in the Australian Open final in January to win her first Grand Slam title.
Williams, who won her first title in nine months in Rome, has played only four tournaments this season.
“Four tournaments, three finals isn’t bad for everyone else, but then again I’m not everyone else,” said Williams, who lost to Azarenka in the Indian Wells final in March.
Margaret Smith Court (24) and Graf are the only players with more Grand Slam singles titles than Williams, who has never won back-to-back titles at Roland Garros.
In the bottom half of the draw, second-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska will start her bid for a first major title against Bojana Jovanovski.