French Open 2019: Roger Feder on collision course with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic faces complicated route to quarter-finals

With the qualifiers at the 2019 French Open under way, the draw ceremony is now complete, and we now have a better idea of who will play whom on the terre battue this year. With an 86-2 record, gunning for a twelfth title here to break his own record, and fresh off a Masters title, Rafael Nadal is also the fan favourite to win.

We break up the brackets at Roland Garros 2019, to see who will play whom and what to expect at each stage of the tournament:

First quarter

Headlined by top seed and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, the first quarter at the French Open 2019 will not be an easy one for the Serbian defending champion. 32-year-old Djokovic begins his campaign at Roland Garros against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, who will not be as easy an opponent as the Serbian may have hoped.

22-year-old Hurkacz reached a career-high ranking of 41 in May, and earlier this year ousted Dominic Thiem in straight sets at the Miami Open. He has had a number of good performances this year, and defeated Kei Nishikori in Dubai before putting up quite the contest against the in-form Stefanos Tsitsipas. If anything, Hurkacz has this season made a habit of defeating ‘bigger’ players, and at Indian Wells, took out Lucas Pouille, Kei Nishikori and Denis Shapovalov before exiting to Roger Federer.

 French Open 2019: Roger Feder on collision course with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic faces complicated route to quarter-finals

Serbia's Novak Djokovic in action during his Italian Open semi-final match against Argentina's Diego Schwartzman. Reuters

Hurkacz has beaten some quality players this year, but his clay-court prowess has left a lot to be desired; he has lost all his last three matches, and had a poor showing on the soil at Lyon. In contrast, Djokovic has won 11 of his last 13 matches, and all said and done, is statistically still one of the most successful clay-court players in history. With the Serbian’s consistency, he will not worry too much about R1.

Djokovic could meet either Denis Shapovalov in the Round of 16; the Canadian, who has not had an extremely consistent run so far this year, troubled Djokovic slightly at the Australian Open (which he would eventually go on to win), and with a couple of great performances, went deep into Miami, where he lost to Roger Federer in the semi-finals. However, Shapovalov’s clay record this year has been nothing to write home about. It is Coric who could be the bigger competitor here; the 22-year-old made the semi-finals in Dubai, and the quarter-finals in Miami and Monte Carlo, taking a set off eventual champion Fabio Fognini in the latter. Coric has never defeated Djokovic, and with two of the pair’s three matches on clay, Djokovic should have it relatively easy if his rivals’ clay form is considered.

Depending on how the lower half of his quarter goes, Djokovic could see either Fabio Fognini or Alexander Zverev — both good on the surface — in the quarter-finals. A Djokovic-Zverev match-up would be interesting, with the pair’s head-to-head even at two matches apiece, and the only time the pair have met on clay, Zverev had a straight sets victory. Fognini-Zverev will be an interesting Round 4 matchup, but if Fognini repeats his Monte-Carlo performance against the German at Roland Garros, the Italian should cruise through. Add to this the fact that Zverev is currently playing in Geneva, and he might well suffer from fatigue coming into the French Open.

While the Italian winning would mean a more experienced opponent on the soil for Djokovic, Fognini, who of late has found form and consistency, has not defeated the Serbian in 13 years.

Second quarter:

This quarter is headlined by 2018 finalist Dominic Thiem, who should fancy his chances this year. The Austrian should have it easy enough until the fourth round, where he meets Grand Slam giant-slayer and clay-court specialist Fernando Verdasco. Thiem, despite being the higher-ranked player, has never been able to defeat the Spaniard once in their four matches against each other. They most recently met at Rome this year, with Verdasco taking a three-set win over his young Austrian rival.

Austria's Dominic Thiem in action during his Madrid Open semi-final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic.

Austria's Dominic Thiem in action during his Madrid Open semi-final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic.

Also in Thiem’s quarter this year is Gael Monfils, who has played some good tennis this year, but simply failed to find the consistency he needs to defeat Thiem. Monfils does, however, have a title at Rotterdam under his belt, so he could well be a thorn in the Austrian’s side this time around.

Rounding up the second quarter to potentially set up a good clash is Argentine Juan Martin del Potro; the Tower of Tandil will have his work cut out for him, though, as he takes on the in-form clay-court player Nicolas Jarry in Round 1. Chilean Jarry had a particularly good run in Barcelona this year, and that, compounded by Delpo’s constant injury struggles, might well see the 23-year-old be a surprise package deeper into the French Open than expected.

10th seed Karen Khachanov is also in Thiem’s quarter, but with not much to write home about so far this season, it seems unlikely he will be much of a threat.

Third quarter

Perhaps the most competitive quarter of them all, the third features both Roger Federer and Stefanos Tstisipas, albeit at opposite ends. The Greek’s Round 2 opponent could come in the form of the only Indian in the draw, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who begins his campaign at the French Open against Bolivia’s Hugo Dellien.

Making things interesting in the third quarter is 2015 Roland Garros champion Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss made the quarter-finals at the Madrid Masters this year without dropping a set, and the finals in Rotterdam before that. We could see an interesting match-up of two Grand Slam winners in Round 3, with Wawrinka potentially taking on Marin Cilic. Round 4 in this quarter could be interesting; it is likely to be a Tsitsipas vs Wawrinka contest, something that has never happened before.

But the biggest draw of this quarter — and indeed, one of the biggest names in tennis — is in this quarter, with Roger Federer beginning his contest against Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego. It seems very likely that Federer will set up a quarter-final against Tsitsipas, in what will be their third meeting — this year, and overall. The two currently stand dead even at one matches apieces, with Federer winning the last time they faced off at Dubai, 6-4, 6-4. Given the form of both players, and the athleticism of Tsitsipas, this one will be a doozy.

Switzerland's Roger Federer in action during his Italian Open second round match against Portugal's Joao Sousa. Reuters

Switzerland's Roger Federer in action during his Italian Open second round match against Portugal's Joao Sousa. Reuters

Should Federer — obviously by far one of the most experienced players on the Grand Slam stage — take this win, fans will see a Federer - Nadal matchup in the semi-finals.

Fourth quarter

The “big one”, as they say, features second seed and ‘Unadecima’ winner Rafael Nadal, the fan favourite for the title at Roland Garros. Nadal has perhaps the easiest draw of any of the top five players in Paris; he will begin his campaign against a qualifier, continue against another, and potentially face Nikoloz Basilashvili in the Round of 16. The highest seed that could trouble Nadal in the final quarter is No. 7 Kei Nishikori, who starts his own campaign against local hope Quentin Halys; Nishikori could face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Round 2.

The 7th seed will be worried for his Round 4 match against Russian 12th seed Daniil Medvedev; the 23-year-old ousted Nishikori in Barcelona this year, and has had an extremely good run of form in 2019. Medvedev has also unearthed some excellent performances on clay this year, particularly at the Monte-Carlo Masters, where he ousted Stefanos Tsitsipas and Novak Djokovic in quick succession.

This quarter-final looks to be a Medvedev-Nadal contest — an interesting first-time match-up, but one that will not trouble the Spaniard too much; although he had a less than ideal clay run by his own standards, he is in Paris fresh off a clay court title and looking fit.

Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during the Italian Open final against Serbia's Novak Djokovic. Reuters

Spain's Rafael Nadal in action during the Italian Open final against Serbia's Novak Djokovic. Reuters

Interestingly, the last time Federer and Nadal were in the same half at Roland Garros was in 2005. The 2005 French Open was the “one that started it all” — it was here that Nadal won his first ever Grand Slam, and his first of 11 French Open titles (so far!).

All in all, the draw looks most to favour Rafael Nadal, who looks to be on a comfortable course till at least the semi-finals. Roger Federer could have it tough from Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third. The second quarter should on paper be a Dominic Thiem show, but given Thiem’s weakness against Fernando Verdasco and Verdasco’s own comfort on clay, this one will be interesting. Gael Monfils could well be the surprise package here.

The first quarter may seem less than easy for Novak Djokovic with some young guns — and older ones ready to fire, but none have had the consistency or form, or indeed, been as successful on the clay as Novak Djokovic. He should comfortably set up a quarter-final against either Alexander Zverev or Fabio Fognini, which could be an interesting watch. All in all, the top quarters offer some interesting tennis, but the third will provide some of the most intriguing match-ups so far

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Updated Date: May 25, 2019 14:35:06 IST