Rafael Nadal handed tough Alexander Zverev test in first round of French Open

<span>Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will meet in the first round in Paris.</span><span>Composite: Getty</span>
Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev will meet in the first round in Paris.Composite: Getty

An unseeded Rafael Nadal will face Alexander Zverev in a heavyweight first-round contest at the French Open for what may be his final appearance at a tournament he has won a record 14 times.

Ranked No 276 in the world, Nadal is unseeded at Roland Garros for the first time, entering with a protected ranking, meaning he was always vulnerable to facing a top seed early on. He has endured a difficult 18 months, struggling with various injuries that have forced him to spend most of his time away from the tour.

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Nadal has compiled a remarkable 112-3 (97.4%) win-loss record at the French Open, an unprecedented level of ­dominance at one event, but he has not competed here since his 2022 triumph. While the 37-year-old has never lost in the first round in Paris, he has never competed without being a top-five seed.

Zverev is in top form having won the Italian Open in Rome last week, but his domestic abuse trial in Berlin will begin during the tournament, on 31 May. He has contested a penalty order after being accused of physically abusing a woman, his ex-girlfriend Brenda Patea, and “damaging her health” during an argument in Berlin in May 2020. He has always denied the allegations.

While Zverev is not required to attend the trial, and in Rome he said that he will not, the judge could ­summon him to appear if he is given one week’s notice. It is scheduled to take place on two dates during the French Open, plus 7 June, and then two dates during Wimbledon; 5 and 12 July. Eight dates are scheduled.

Nadal had competed in one event this year before the clay court season and he returned to action in ­Barcelona extremely uncertain about his body. In recent weeks, he has finally been able to enjoy a string of weeks on the court.

But the results have been mixed. After making positive progress in Madrid, where Nadal reached the fourth round, he was far from decent form in Rome, where he was dismantled in straight sets by Hubert Hurkacz. Nadal has indicated this is probably his final season on the tour due to his body, but it is also increasingly clear he would love to continue competing.

Andy Murray has also received an extremely high-profile first-round draw as he resumes his rivalry with Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion. The match between the two three-time grand slam champions will mark a rematch of their first round at Roland Garros in 2020, which is the last time Murray, 37, competed in Paris.

Wawrinka, 39, will also be Murray’s third consecutive opponent at Roland Garros after he lost to the 2015 champion in the 2017 semi-final. The winner will face the British No 1, Cameron Norrie, the 32nd seed, in the second round.

Novak Djokovic, the top seed and defending champion, will begin against Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Zverev and Nadal have been drawn in the 37-year-old Djokovic’s half, while Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik ­Sinner arrive after injuries forced them to withdraw from Rome.

Jack Draper will face a qualifier, and a potential second-round match against Alcaraz, while Dan Evans will face Holger Rune, the 13th seed.

The women’s draw has also thrown up the possibility of some significant early-round matches. Iga Swiatek, the world No 1 and defending champion, could face Naomi Osaka in the second round, which would be a meeting of the two most successful players in the ­women’s draw, both four-time grand slam champions. Swiatek, who arrives in Paris after winning Madrid and Rome, will begin her title defence against a qualifier, while Osaka starts against Lucia Bronzetti.

As the top four players continue to distinguish themselves from the rest of the field, third-seed Coco Gauff has landed in Swiatek’s half while Aryna Sabalenka, the second seed, and the fourth, Elena Rybakina, lead the bottom half. After losing to Swiatek in the finals of Madrid and Rome, Sabalenka will play Erika Andreeva.

In her first main draw appearance, the British No 1, Katie Boulter, seeded 26th, faces an extremely tough ­opening match against the former world No 2 Paula Badosa. ­Harriet Dart will face Linda Noskova, the 27th seed.