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Rafael Nadal’s brutal first round French Open nightmare

Rafael Nadal’s brutal first round French Open nightmare

Rafael Nadal is facing a brutal test in the first round of what is shaping to be his final French Open tournament, drawing world No. 4 Alexander Zverev in the first round

Nadal has won the tournament 14 times from 18 attempts with an insane 112-3 record (he didn’t lose in 2016, instead withdrawing due to a wrist injury).

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No player has a better record at any single grand slam than Nadal, having not been defeated earlier than the fourth round in his career at Roland Garros.

But that record will be tested as Nadal goes up against Zverev for the first time since the 2022 French Open semi-final.

That match ended in tears for the German after he tore ligaments in his ankle in the second set of the match.

Nadal is unseeded at this year’s French Open, with his ranking having plummeted to No. 276 in the world.

Nadal, a 22-time grand slam winner, will turn 38 next week with this season shaping as his last on the tour as he has rarely played this year.

After an injury in Brisbane, Nadal only returned in April, playing in Barcelona, Madrid and Rome as preparation for the French Open.

Speaking after his Rome exit last week, Nadal confirmed he was going to play the French.

“I’m going to play the tournament thinking that I can give my all, 100 per cent,” Nadal explained.

“And if 100 per cent is not enough to win a match, I’ll accept that. But I don’t want to step onto court knowing that I have no chance. If there’s a 0.01 per cent chance, I want to explore that and give it a go.”

Nadal holds a 7-3 winning head-to-head record against Zverev with five of those victories coming on clay.

The 27-year-old Zverev arrives in Paris having won in Rome last week.

Speaking Eurosport, former world No. 2 Alex Corretja said Nadal had nothing to prove.

“Everybody is hoping that he’s going to be healthy and that we know that he’s getting ready,” he said.

“He’s been practising on Chatrier to test himself and I think he needs to let it go, just go for everything he has.

“I think it’s difficult to talk from the outside, but I hope that he can just go there and just do whatever he can.

“I’m not expecting anything, it’s just go play and whatever comes is going to be a gift.

“He doesn’t need to prove anything else. Not even to himself, not even to the whole world.

“So if he is able to be there and play one match, two matches, three matches, every match, every time he jumps on court he will be given the recognition he deserves.

“It’s going to be a party. It’s going to be something unbelievable and the crowd is going to be crazy with him.

“That’s why we need Rafa in the tournament. I think it’s going to be a major thing to have him in Roland-Garros this year.”

Aussies in action

There are plenty of Aussies in the main draw at the French Open, headlined by 11th seed Alex de Minaur, who will face American world No. 65 Alex Michelsen.

It’s been a promising draw for the Aussies with Chris O’Connell and Max Purcell landing qualifiers in the first round.

Rinky Hijikata could face Nadal in the third round, but has to get past world No. 47 Italian Luciano Darderi in the first.

Aussie wildcard Adam Walton will face Frenchman Arthur Rinderknech, while Aleksandar Vukic faces China’s Zhizhen Zhang and Jordan Thompson will face German Maximilian Marterer.

And an Aussie will make the second round with Alexei Popyrin and Thanasi Kokkinakis facing off in the opening round.

In the women’s draw, Aussie wildcard Ajla Tomljanovic faces a tough first round opponent in 30th seed Dayana Yastremska and could face 3rd seed Coco Gauff if both women can make the third round.

Daria Saville faces 12th seed Italian Jasmine Paolini.

Other big match ups

In other big names, defending men’s champion and 24-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic will face French veteran Pierre Hugues-Herbert in his opener.

The Serb has yet to win a title in 2024 with runs to the semi-finals at the Australian Open and Monte Carlo Masters his best performances.

World number two Jannik Sinner, who took out the Australian Open title in January, faces Christopher Eubanks of the United States.

Third-seeded Wimbledon champion Carlos Alcaraz, a semi-finalist in Paris in 2023, plays a qualifier.

2016 runner up Andy Murray will tackle 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka in a battle of grizzled Grand Slam veterans.

In the women’s draw, top seed and world number one Swiatek will take on a qualifier with Naomi Osaka facing Lucia Bronzetti of Italy in their openers before a potential second round clash.

Swiatek is bidding to win a fifth major and fourth French Open title.

“It feels like home here,” said Swiatek who arrives at the tournament with clay-court titles in Madrid and Rome under her belt.

World number two Aryna Sabalenka starts against 101-ranked Erika Andreeva of Russia.

Third seed and US Open champion Coco Gauff faces a qualifier in the first round and is seeded to face Swiatek in the semi-finals.

With AFP

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