Djokovic vs. Nadal in the semi-finals and everything else you need to know about the Roland-Garros men’s draw

The possible semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic is the big story of the 2021 Roland-Garros men’s singles draw. Roger Federer also finds himself in the top half, but will he advance far enough for that to become a factor?

27 May 2021
Rafael Nadal reacts during his final match against Novak Djokovic

The Big Three against the NextGen…. That soap opera may be a tennis journalist’s obsession, but — like it or not — the Roland-Garros 2021 men’s singles draw scripted things for another Big 3-NextGen chapter when the draw ceremony took place on Thursday behind closed doors.

With Nadal seeded third and Federer seeded outside the top four (eighth), there was always going to be a chance that all three could land in the top half of the draw. That is exactly what happened. Thus there are three men with 58 Grand Slam titles between them (including 15 at Roland-Garros) who are in the same half of the bracket (Djokovic and Federer in the same quarter, too). Nadal’s projected quarterfinal opponent is Andrey Rublev. A Nadal-Djokovic final would be a rematch of the 2020 French Open final, the 2013 French Open semis, and the recent Rome Masters title match.

On the other side, No 5 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas is the favorite to reach his first Grand Slam final. No 4 Dominic Thiem and No 6 Alexander Zverev could also be in the mix in what is a much more wide open section than the top half. No 2 Daniil Medvedev has a friendly enough draw prior to possibly meeting Tsitsipas in the quarter-finals, so even though the Russian despises clay he could advance at least a few rounds.

Here is everything you need to know about the 2021 Roland-Garros men’s singles draw:

NOTABLE FIRST-ROUND MATCHES: GOFFIN GETS TOUGH TEST AGAINST MUSETTI

Federer (8) – Istomin (Q) – Qualifiers were placed in the draw on Friday and Istomin landed in a first-round showdown with Federer. Istomin is a fellow veteran (34 years old) who is not a complete stranger to early-round upsets at slams. The Uzbek famously toppled Djokovic in the last 64 of the 2017 Australian Open. However, Istomin is 0-7 lifetime against Federer.

Goffin (13) – Musetti – Musetti has been one of the rising stars on tour dating back to last fall and Goffin has been struggling. This could be an upset alert.

Nadal (3) – Popyrin – This will be a good experience for Popyrin, but probably not one that will result in a win over even competitiveness. Although the Aussie has a ton of talent, his game does not yet translate great to clay. More importantly, Nadal is…well…Nadal.

Gaston – Gasquet – This is a clash of two different French generations. Gaston made an improbable run to the French Open fourth round in 2020. If he wants to reach even the third round in 2021, the left-hander would have to beat Gasquet and in all likelihood Nadal.

Sinner (18) – Herbert – Fans are already looking ahead to a potential Nadal-Sinner showdown in the fourth round, but Sinner won’t be looking ahead. Herbert could be a tough first-round opponent.

Karatsev (24) – Brooksby (Q) – Karatsev has been the tour’s breakout star in 2021; Brooksby has been the dominant force on the Challenger circuit in 2021. This should be a first-round battle of the highest quality.

Rublev (7) – Struff – Struff has been seeded at slams before, but that is not the case this time around. The result is a rough first-round draw for both him and for Rublev.

Tsitsipas (5) – Chardy – Chardy was on fire earlier this season on hard courts, but the hot streak has come to an end. He will have to raise his level back to where it was – and even higher – if he wants to seriously compete with Tsitsipas. The Greek is favored to reach the final out of the bottom half of the bracket.

Medvedev (2) – Bublik – Get your popcorn ready for this one. Chances are good that neither man will go on to win the tournament, but it itself this is just a fun first-round matchup. Expect plenty of histrionics, both on and off the court.

FIRST-WEEK MATCHES WE WOULD LIKE TO SEE: POTENTIAL FUN ONES FOR FELIX

  • Djokovic (1) – Pouille in the second round
  • Djokovic (1) – Humbert in the third round
  • Tsonga – Musetti or Goffin (13) in the second round
  • Djokovic (1) – Musetti in the round of 16
  • Félix Auger-Aliassime (20) – Berrettini (9) in the third round
  • Federer (8) – Rinderknech in the second round
  • Federer (8) – Auger-Aliassime (20) in the round of 16
  • Nadal (3) – Gasquet in the second round
  • Nadal (3) – Sinner (18) in the round of 16
  • Sinner (8) – Monfils (14) in the third round
  • Zverev (6) – Moutet in the third round
  • Tsitsipas (5) – Korda in the second round
  • Medevedv (2) – Dimitrov (16) in the round of 16

PROJECTED QUARTER-FINALS: WILL FEDERER GET TO DJOKOVIC?

  • Djokovic – Federer – Will the next half-century of matches in the Djokovic-Federer rivalry begin in Paris. Probably not, as a rust Federer will be hard-pressed to reach the quarter-finals. Djokovic leads the head-to-head series 27-23 and they have not faced each other since the 2020 Australian Open.
  • Nadal – Rublev – Nadal is probably content with having avoided Tsitsipas in his section of the draw, even though he would never admit as much. Rublev beat the Spaniard in Monte-Carlo, but he has cooled off since and previously had struggled in a big way in the head-to-head series.
  • Zverev – Thiem – A rematch of the 2020 U.S. Open final…. Need we say more?
  • Tsitsipas – Medvedev – Like Djokovic-Federer, this potential battle probably won’t come to fruition. Medvedev has never won a match at Roland-Garros (0-4 lifetime). How is he suddenly going to win at least four?

FEDERER’S PROJECTED PATH

  • 1st round: Istomin
  • 2nd round: Cilic or Rinderknech
  • 3rd round: Fritz
  • Round of 16: Berrettini or Auger-Aliassime
  • Quarter-final: Djokovic
  • Semi-final: Nadal or Rublev
  • Final: Tsitsipas, Thiem, Medvedev or Zverev

DJOKOVIC’S PROJECTED PATH

  • 1st round: Sandgren
  • 2nd round: Pouille or Cuevas 
  • 3rd round: Humbert 
  • Round of 16: Goffin, Musetti, or De Minaur
  • Quarter-final: Federer, Berrettini, or Auger-Aliassime
  • Semi-final: Nadal or Rublev
  • Final: Tsitsipas, Thiem, Zverev, or Medvedev

NADAL’S PROJECTED PATH

  • 1st round: Popyrin
  • 2nd round: Gaston or Gasquet 
  • 3rd round: Sonego, Harris, or Norrie 
  • Round of 16: Monfils or Sinner 
  • Quarter-final: Rublev, Schwartzman, or Karatsev
  • Semi-final: Djokovic or Federer
  • Final: Tsitsipas, Thiem, Zverev, or Medvedev
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