Williams, Sharapova poised for last-16 duel

PARIS • Her fate left to the whims of a randomisation algorithm, the unseeded Serena Williams got a comfortable French Open draw on Thursday, with a first-round match against 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova.

This will be their first meeting and the Czech, the twin sister of world No. 6 Karolina, has never won a main-draw match at Roland Garros.

Williams, who will be playing her first Grand Slam since giving birth last September, has played just four matches on the WTA Tour this year and has not featured at all since Miami in March.

The former world No. 1 could face long-time rival Maria Sharapova in the last 16. The Russian missed last year's event after the two-time French Open champion was refused a wild card as she battled to rebuild her career following a 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova has not defeated Williams since 2004.

Williams is in the top half of the draw, which is led by No. 1 seed Simona Halep. The Romanian faces American Alison Riske in her opener.

The bottom half features Danish No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki and defending champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

The topic of whether Williams, who was No. 1 when she announced her pregnancy, should be seeded has been debated throughout the sport for weeks.

During the draw ceremony, Ivanka Trump even weighed in, calling Williams' unseeded status "ridiculous". "No person should ever be penalised professionally for having a child! The WTA should change this rule immediately," Trump tweeted.

On the men's side, top-seeded Rafael Nadal, a 10-time winner at Roland Garros and already an overwhelming favourite, got even more help from the draw.

The defending champion, who opens against 54th-ranked Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov, is on the opposite half of the draw from many of the players considered most likely to challenge him.

The highest seeds with Nadal in the top half like No. 3 Marin Cilic of Croatia and fifth-seeded Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro are at their least comfortable on clay.

The bottom half is anchored by second-seeded German Alexander Zverev and former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia - the last man to defeat Nadal at Roland Garros in the 2015 quarter-finals.

"It's always special when I come back to Paris where I have had so many wonderful moments. It's the most important place in my career," said the Spaniard, who is coming off wins at Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome.

"Having success in the last couple of weeks helps me to come here with more confidence."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2018, with the headline 'Williams, Sharapova poised for last-16 duel'. Print Edition | Subscribe