Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer, the three most successful men in Grand Slam tennis history, were on Thursday all drawn in the same half of the French Open.
Having slipped to number three in the world, it was always likely that Nadal, the 13-time champion, would face top-ranked Djokovic before the final.
The two great rivals could now meet in the semi-finals this year.
Tournament director Guy Forget admitted that the idea of bumping up Nadal to the second seeding instead of Daniil Medvedev, who has never won a match in Paris, had crossed their minds.
At Wimbledon, a player’s grass court form and record are taken into consideration when seedings are decided.
“Clay today is a real specialist surface but we decided to follow the ATP rankings,” said Forget.
“Medvedev didn’t steal his ranking; he has earned it.
“It may seem unbalanced on paper, but if Rafa wants to win a 14th title here, he’s going to have to beat Novak. Whether he beats him in the final or in the semi-finals….”
“Besides, it would be an insult to Medvedev to tell him that he is seeded out of place.”
Djokovic chasing ‘double’ Slam
Djokovic has lost three finals to Nadal at the French Open in 2012, 2014 and then last year, when the Spaniard swept to victory, 6-0, 6-2, 7-5.
Djokovic, the 2016 champion, is top seed and could possibly face 2009 winner Federer in the quarter-finals.
All three men are chasing history at the French Open which starts on Sunday.
Nadal and Federer, seeded eight, are locked on 20 Grand Slams each while Djokovic, who has 18, can become the first man in over half a century to win all four majors on more than one occasion.
It is the first time that the three heavyweights of the sport have been drawn in the same half at a major.
However, it has meant a top-heavy draw when it comes to Grand Slam calibre.
The ‘Big Three’ have 58 majors between them. Also in their section in 2014 US Open winner Marin Cilic.
The lower half of the draw boasts just one Slam win – the 2020 US Open title of world number four Dominic Thiem.
Nadal, who has a 100-2 record at the tournament, starts his bid for a 14th French Open title against Alexei Popyrin of Australia, the world number 62.
Nadal’s most likely quarter-final opponent is Russia’s Andrey Rublev who defeated him at the Monte Carlo Masters last month.
Nadal insists his coronation as a 14-time champion in Paris is far from certain.
“No-one is invincible, anywhere,” he told AFP.
Djokovic tackles 66th-ranked Tennys Sandgren of the United States in his first round match while Federer, playing the tournament for the first time since 2019, begins against a qualifier.
Federer, with just one match win in 2021, has already made it clear that his priority is Wimbledon which he hopes to win for a ninth time in July.
Russian second seed Medvedev starts against Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan.
Two-time runner-up and fourth seed Thiem, who is in Medvedev’s half of the draw, begins against Spanish veteran Pablo Andujar.
It was Andujar who beat Federer in Geneva last week in the Swiss great’s only appearance on clay this season.
In-form world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won the Monte Carlo event and had a match point before losing to Nadal in the Barcelona final, is also in the lower half.
Barty is women’s top seed
In the women’s event, world number one Ashleigh Barty, the 2019 champion, tackles Bernarda Pera of the United States first.
Second seed Naomi Osaka, a four-time major winner who has never got past the third round in Paris, begins against Romania’s 63rd-ranked Patricia Maria Tig.
Serena Williams, a three-time French Open winner and still seeking an elusive record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, faces Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania.
Defending champion Iga Swiatek plays close friend Kaja Juvan of Slovenia in her opener.
If the seedings pan out, Barty and Swiatek will face each other in the semi-finals.
Williams is in the other half of the draw where Osaka is seeded to face Madrid champion Aryna Sabalenka in the last four.