Tennis: No easy starts for top guns at the French Open

Spain's Rafael Nadal (left) celebrates winning his semi final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic at the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Spain on May 13, 2017.
Spain's Rafael Nadal (left) celebrates winning his semi final match against Serbia's Novak Djokovic at the Mutua Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Spain on May 13, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

(REUTERS) - There will be no gentle start for the favourites at the French Open starting on Sunday (May 28), with nine-time winner Rafael Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic on a semi-final collision course.

Fourth-seed Nadal, who has lost only one match on clay this season, was handed a tricky first-round opponent in the mercurial Benoit Paire on Friday.

Serbian Djokovic, the second seed, will take on Spain's Marcel Granollers, a man who has won three of his four ATP titles on the red dirt.

World No. 1 Andy Murray, who has been struggling this season, will play Russian Andrey Kuznetsov and faces a potential third-round with either clay-court specialist Nicolas Almagro or Argentinian Juan Martin Del Potro.

Third-seed Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, the 2015 champion, will face a qualifier and could meet Murray in the semi-finals.

In the women's draw, Czech Petra Kvitova, who has not played competitive tennis since being stabbed during a burglary at her home in December 2016, was included as 15th seed thanks to her protected ranking.

Providing she is fit to play, she will take on American Julia Boserup.

Defending champion Garbine Muguruza was handed a tricky first round as she will take on the 2010 champion, Italian Francesca Schiavone.

On her possible path to the final, the fourth-seeded Spaniard could also face American Venus Williams.

World No. 1 Angelique Kerber will open her campaign against Ekaterina Makarova.

Several top names will not feature in this year's tournament as 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer is skipping the clay-court season, two-time champion Maria Sharapova was denied a wild card after returning from a doping ban, and three-time winner Serena Williams is expecting a child.