PARIS — Naomi Osaka will not have the luxury of easing into her return to the red clay of the French Open, facing a tough foe in her very first match.
The second week of competition, meanwhile, could be quite fascinating for Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Alcaraz. The three leading favorites for the men's title ended up on the same side of the bracket for the Grand Slam tournament, meaning only one can reach the final.
Thursday's draw at Roland Garros also set up two tantalizing possibilities in the fourth round for No. 1-ranked Iga Swiatek, the 2020 French Open women's champion who is currently on a 28-match winning streak. She might need to go up against 2018 champ Simona Halep at that stage or 2017 champ Jelena Ostapenko — who just so happens to be the most recent woman to defeat Swiatek.
The tournament begins Sunday.
Osaka is a four-time Grand Slam champion and a former No. 1 in the WTA rankings who has slipped to No. 38 in part because of a lack of activity. That included time off for a mental health break after she withdrew from the French Open ahead of her second-round match last year, revealing that she has dealt with anxiety and depression.
Because she is not seeded for the year's second major tournament, she was not safe from facing a seeded opponent right away, so that's what will happen against No. 27 Amanda Anisimova, a 20-year-old American who was a 2019 semifinalist in Paris.
Anisimova won their third-round encounter at the Australian Open in January, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5), when Osaka was the reigning champion at Melbourne Park.
The possible women's quarterfinals in Paris are Swiatek against two-time major runner-up Karolina Pliskova, and No. 3 seed Paula Badosa against No. 7 Aryna Sabalenka in the top half of the bracket, and 2021 champion Barbora Krejcikova against No. 5 Anett Kontaveit, and No. 4 Maria Sakkari against No. 6 Ons Jabeur in the bottom half.
Last year, in her first time in the main draw of singles at the French Open, Krejcikova won both that trophy — the player she beat in the final, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, announced this week her season is done because of an injured knee — along with the women's doubles title by teaming with Katerina Siniakova.
So it makes sense that Krejcikova used phrases such as "extremely amazing" and "something incredible" while discussing what happened last spring in Paris during a brief appearance at the draw ceremony and noted with a smile: "This clay suits me."
Nadal, he of the record 13 titles on the red stuff in Paris, and Djokovic, a two-time champion, could say the same, of course. Djokovic, who is the reigning champion and seeded No. 1, could meet Nadal in the quarterfinals. A year ago, Djokovic beat Nadal in the semifinals, then erased a two-set deficit against Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the final.
"I am very motivated to play my best tennis," Djokovic said in French on Thursday as he marked his chance to get back on the Grand Slam stage after missing the Australian Open because he is not vaccinated against COVID-19 (the French Open has no such requirement).
"Last year in Paris was the perfect result. Roland Garros was maybe the hardest of my career — of all the Grand Slams I have won," he said. "Very emotional, tiring, but at the end, the result arrived."
Nadal holds the record for Grand Slam titles in men's singles with 21, one ahead of Djokovic and Roger Federer, who has not played since Wimbledon last July, is recovering from knee surgery and will miss the French Open for the fifth time in seven years.
If the Djokovic-Nadal showdown happens, the winner could face No. 6 seed Alcaraz in the semifinals. Alcaraz is just 19, recently won the Madrid Open on clay and became the youngest player to break into the top 10 of the ATP rankings since Nadal in 2005.
Alcaraz could meet No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev in the quarterfinals. The potential quarterfinals on the other half of the bracket are No. 2 Daniil Medvedev against No. 7 Andrey Rublev — two Russians who will not be allowed to compete at Wimbledon because of that country's invasion of Ukraine — and No. 4 Tsitsipas against No. 8 Casper Ruud.