PARIS, May 25, 2023 (AFP) – Novak Djokovic could face world number one Carlos Alcaraz in the semi-finals of the French Open after both players were placed in the same half of the draw on Thursday.
Djokovic is chasing a record 23rd men’s Grand Slam title in the absence of the injured Rafael Nadal, who will miss the tournament at Roland Garros for the first time since his 2005 title-winning debut.
The third-seeded Djokovic, Roland Garros champion in 2016 and 2021, meets 114th-ranked Aleksandar Kovacevic of the US in the first round in Paris — the first French Open since 1998 without Nadal or the now retired Roger Federer.
The 24-year-old Kovacevic is making his Grand Slam main draw debut.
Djokovic, who turned 36 on Monday, has been bothered by a recurrence of a right elbow injury which has disrupted his clay-court season.
He failed to go beyond the last eight at any of the three events he played on clay this spring, losing his number one spot to Alcaraz.
Djokovic has also fallen behind Daniil Medvedev in the rankings after the Russian succeeded him as Italian Open champion last weekend.
US Open champion Alcaraz and Medvedev both start their Roland Garros campaigns against a qualifier or lucky loser.
Alcaraz faces a challenging path to a second Grand Slam title, with Lorenzo Musetti a possible last-16 foe before 2021 runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas potentially awaits him in the quarter-finals.
For Djokovic to set up a blockbuster last-four clash with Alcaraz he may need to get past Monte Carlo Masters champion Andrey Rublev in the quarters.
Casper Ruud, who was thrashed by Nadal in last year’s final, is seeded fourth and plays a qualifier in his opening match.
The in-form Holger Rune arrives in Paris at a career-high six in the world and takes on Christopher Eubanks of the US in round one.
– Swiatek contends with Rybakina threat –
Two-time women’s champion Iga Swiatek begins her title defence against Spain’s Cristina Bucsa, the world number 67 who was beaten by the Pole in the third round of this year’s Australian Open.
The top-ranked Swiatek, bidding to become the first back-to-back women’s champion at the French Open in 16 years, is coming off a thigh injury which forced her to retire in Rome.
She is seeded to meet 2022 runner-up Coco Gauff in the quarter-finals and could face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, last week’s Italian Open winner, in the last four.
Rybakina has beaten Swiatek three times this season, knocking her out of the Australian Open Melbourne and Indian Wells before advancing when injury halted her rival in Rome.
Barbora Krejcikova, the 2021 winner, could await Swiatek in the last 16. The Czech lost in the first round a year ago.
“This is my favourite tournament. I always get this extra motivation to practise harder here. I’m really excited to be here,” Swiatek said during the draw ceremony.
Aryna Sabalenka, who won her maiden Grand Slam crown in Melbourne, plays Marta Kostyuk of Ukraine in round one. Sabalenka has never got beyond the third round in Paris despite making at least the semi-finals at all of the other three majors.
Furthermore, her title win in Madrid this spring was followed by a first-up exit at the hands of 134th-ranked Sofia Kenin in Rome.
Third seed Jessica Pegula has a tricky opening match against fellow American and 2022 Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, while Rybakina gets a qualifier first up.
Ons Jabeur, seeded seventh, is a potential quarter-final opponent for Rybakina, who defeated the Tunisian in the 2022 Wimbledon final. Jabeur also finished runner-up to Swiatek at the US Open.
Rybakina, a Russian-born Kazakh has yet to get past the last eight at Roland Garros.
French fifth seed Caroline Garcia meets China’s Wang Xiyu as two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka squares off with 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in the first round.