Paris: Rafael Nadal will open his quest for a ninth French Open crown with a tie against US veteran wildcard Robby Ginepri following today's draw which treated the Spaniard kindly.
Serena Williams & Rafael Nadal at the French Open draw ceremony in Paris yesterday
The 27-year-old has a 59-1 win record at Roland Garros since he first appeared in Paris in 2005, his only loss being to Robin Soderling of Sweden in a 2009 fourth round upset. But Nadal's uncustomary struggles on clay in the buildup to Roland Garros means that he is not the outstanding favourite he usually is, with world number two Novak Djokovic also fancied to win what would be his first French Open title.
Still, the draw handed Nadal a relatively more straightforward passage through the rounds than Djokovic. Nadal is facing fourth-round and quarter-final matchups against fellow Spaniards Nicolas Almagro and David Ferrer, and although both men have beaten him in the buildup to Roland Garros, he has dominated them throughout his career.
Past them, his likeliest semi-finals opponents would be either Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka or Britain's Andy Murray, who are slated to meet in the quarter-finals. Murray led Nadal 4-2 in the deciding set in the Rome quarter-finals last week but eventually lost 7-5 Nadal, whose only tournament win on clay in the buildup came in Madrid where opponent Kei Nishikori of Japan had to pull out in the deciding set of the final, said that he had fully recovered from his efforts in Rome where he played a series of tough three-setters before losing in the final to Djokovic.
"During the claycourt season I get a little better week by week," he said. "Last week in Rome it was tough physically. I played a lot of time, but in the end sometimes you need these things, No? "I was happy with the way I finished in Madrid and Rome. Not that happy about what I did in Monte Carlo and Barcelona."
Djokovic will start comfortably enough with a match against Portugal's Joao Sousa, but he could be faced with dangerous Croat Marin Cilic in the third round. If he comes through that, the Serb could face top home hope Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the last 16, and either fast-rising Milos Raonic of Canada, who ran him close last week in Rome, or Japanese star Nishikori in the quarter-finals before an eventual semi-final against Federer.
Federer, whose one French Open title in Paris came in 2009, is a potential semi-final opponent if the Swiss fourth seed can get past Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in the third quarter of the draw. Federer opens up against Lukas Lacko of Slovakia and could run early into the talented Ernests Gulbis of Latvia, but his path looks clear enough through to the last eight and a matchup with Berdych.
Having played just once -- and lost once -- since his wife Mirka gave birth to the couple's second set of twins, he said that things were "fairly normal." "Clearly there is a bit more happening and there is a bit more you can do if you want to, but Mirka takes care of most of it. "I am not sure if I have played less than in previous years on clay because sometimes I didn't play in Monaco. "So I think it's about what I usually always have before the French Open. "For me, I feel like I'm in good shape. I know where my game is at. I'm not worried that maybe there is not enough matches played, all of that."