PARIS -- Whoever comes through to reach the final at the French Open (May 28-June 11) over the next fortnight will have done it the hard way. Why is that? The draws for the second Grand Slam event of the year threw up some intense encounters -- the potential of Novak Djokovic vs. Rafael Nadal in the semifinal, for starters -- some tricky first-round matches and paths littered with obstacles. Here's how the draw shook out for Andy Murray, Alexander Zverev and Venus Williams, among others, and what it might mean for them.
Djokovic and Nadal could meet in a mouthwatering semifinal showdown at the French Open.
Defending champion Djokovic, whose win in 2016 completed a career grand slam, opens against Marcel Granollers of Spain on May 28. Things look fairly straightforward until the quarterfinals, where he is seeded to face seventh seed Austrian Dominic Thiem, the runner-up in Barcelona and Madrid. Fourth-seeded Nadal, who won the most recent of his nine titles in 2014, will begin with a testing encounter against Frenchman Benoit Paire. Another Frenchman, Gilles Simon, is likely to be waiting in the third round, and Nadal's path to the last four features Simon, Jack Sock and Milos Raonic.
World No. 1 Andy Murray will be glad to have been drawn in the top half, away from Djokovic and Nadal.
The Scot, runner-up to Djokovic 12 months ago, faces world No. 85 Andrey Kuznetsov of Russia in the first round and will need to hit the ground running with Slovakia's Martin Klizan, a possible second-round opponent, and Juan Martin Del Potro, a likely foe in Round 3. American John Isner or Thomas Berdych are seeded to come through to meet Murray in the last 16, with Kei Nishikori or rising star German Alexander Zverev, a possible quarterfinal opponent. Third-seeded Stan Wawrinka, the winner two years ago, is positioned to make it through to a semifinal clash.
Newly crowned Rome champion, Alexander Zverev, perhaps the biggest threat to the big guns, is also in Murray's quarter of the draw.
The 20-year-old German, who beat Djokovic to win his first Masters 1000 final, faces a tough first-round battle against Fernando Verdasco of Spain, a man who has been ranked as high as No 7. If he comes through that, he is seeded to face Pablo Cuevas, the No. 22 seed, in the third round, with Nishikori, who has been battling a wrist injury, his seeded opponent in the last 16.
Simona Halep and Elena Svitolina, the two most in-form players in the women's draw, could be on a collision course in the quarterfinals after they were drawn in the bottom half.
Third seed Halep, the runner-up in 2014, plays Jana Cepelova, a Slovakian ranked 88, in round one, if she has overcome an ankle injury she sustained in Rome last week. Russian Daria Kasatkina is seeded to be waiting in the third round, while Russia's Elena Vesnina or Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro could block her path to a clash with Svitolina. Svitolina, who beat Halep to win Rome for her fourth title of 2017, plays Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan in Round 1, with Madison Keys a potential fourth-round opponent before Halep.
Champion Garbine Muguruza faces a tough defense of her title at Roland Garros, with a host of awkward encounters blocking her path.
The Spaniard, who won her first grand slam in Paris last summer, opens against former champion Francesca Schiavone of Italy, while Estonia's Anett Kontaveit has a big test in Round 2. France's Kristina Mladenovic is seeded to make it to the third round in her section, while sixth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova or former world No. 1 Venus Williams could await her in the quarterfinals. Top-seeded Angelique Kerber could be a semifinal foe, if she gets past the likes of Sam Stosur, Kiki Bertens and Petra Kvitova, making her return from six months out.