Wednesday 25 November, 2020

French Open draw: Nadal faces Gerasimov, Williams plays Ahn

In this Sept. 10, 2020, file photo, Serena Williams walks to her bench with a trainer for a medical timeout during a semifinal match of the US Open tennis championships, against Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File).

In this Sept. 10, 2020, file photo, Serena Williams walks to her bench with a trainer for a medical timeout during a semifinal match of the US Open tennis championships, against Victoria Azarenka, of Belarus, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File).

Rafael Nadal will begin his bid for a record-extending 13th French Open title against Egor Gerasimov in the first round, while Serena Williams starts her attempt for a record-equaling 24th major against Kristie Ahn in all-American matchup.

The 34-year-old Nadal, who is seeded second and has never faced the 83rd-ranked Belarusian, is aiming to equal the absent Roger Federer's men's record of 20 Grand Slam titles. Nadal holds a 93-2 record at Roland Garros.

The sixth-seeded Williams, who turns 39 on Saturday, fell short in her bid to equal Margaret Court's record at the US Open, losing to Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals. Williams has won the French Open three times, the first in 2002 and the last in 2015.

Thursday's draw at Roland Garros also pitted top-ranked Novak Djokovic against No. 80 Mikael Ymer of Sweden in their first career meeting.

Djokovic, who could face powerful Russian Karen Khachanov in the fourth round, is trying again for an 18th major title.

Like Williams, he fell short at Flushing Meadows but for a very different reason.

The 33-year-old Serb was kicked out for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat when angrily swiping away a tennis ball during a match. His only title at the French was in 2016 and he lost the final in ‘14 to Nadal and ’15 to Stan Wawrinka.

The draw was carried out electronically because there were no players present amid a strict coronavirus health and safety protocol.

Wawrinka, seeded 16th, faces another three-time major winner in Britain’s Andy Murray, the runner-up in 2016. Murray leads Wawrinka 12-8 overall but is still trying to get back to his best after having hip surgery last year.

Djokovic tuned up for this tournament with victory at the Italian Open, beating Diego Schwartzman in the final for a record 36th Masters title. Schwartzman beat a patchy Nadal in the quarterfinals — the Spaniard's first tournament in seven months after he skipped the U.S. Open amid COVID-19 concerns.

Dominic Thiem, who beat Alexander Zverev in five sets in the US Open final for his first major, takes on big-hitting Marin Cilic — the 2014 US Open champion — in their first meeting at Roland Garros.

Thiem has lost the past two finals at Roland Garros to Nadal.

Zverev plays Austrian Dennis Novak.

Top-seeded Simona Halep, the 2018 champion and two-time runner-up, faces Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka pulled out of the tournament with an injured hamstring.

Halep is seeded first because No. 1 Ash Barty of Australia opted out of defending her title amid coronavirus concerns.

Australian Open winner Sofia Kenin, seeded fourth, plays Russian Liudmila Samsonova; third-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine is up against Varvara Gracheva, and the 10th-seeded Azarenka faces Danka Kovinic.

Also, 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia takes on American Madison Brengle and the 40-year-old Venus Williams, runner-up to her sister in 2002, opens against Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

Sloane Stephens, the 2018 runner-up, is seeded 29th and takes on Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.

Several players pulled out of the tournament on Thursday, including Milos Raonic of Canada, Fernando Verdasco of Spain and Belinda Bencic of Switzerland. The 10th-ranked Bencic is the fourth woman in the top 10 to withdraw.

The number of fans allowed at Roland Garros has been set to 5,000 per day, and tournament director Guy Forget is hoping that number will not be reduced further after the government announced on Wednesday that a new limit of 1,000 people will be imposed at big events in big cities amid growing coronavirus concerns. It's still unclear whether those guidelines will affect Roland Garros, which begins on Sunday and ends on October 11.

“The last we heard officially from the police prefecture was that 5,000 is very, very safe," Forget said. "We are playing the tournament on the size of 15 football fields and an outside stadium.”

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