Paris - Three-time
champion Serena Williams could face longtime rival Maria Sharapova in
the French Open last-16 after Thursday's draw which also handed Rafael
Nadal a dream route to an 11th title.
Serena, the champion in 2002, 2013 and 2015, will start against Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic.
Former world number one Williams, now ranked a lowly 453, is playing a
Grand Slam for the first time since she won her 23rd major at the 2017
Australian Open after which she stepped off the tour to give birth to
her daughter in September.
Pliskova, the twin sister of world number six Karolina, has never won a main draw match at Roland Garros.
Williams, 36, has played just four matches on the tour in 2018 and not featured at all since Miami in March.
Sharapova, champion in 2012 and 2014, could face Serena, against who
she lost in the 2013 final at Roland Garros, in the fourth round.
The Russian, who missed last year's event after she was refused a
wild card as she battled to rebuild her career following a 15-month
doping ban, has not defeated Williams since 2004.
The American leads their head-to-head series 19-2.
Before they get to that stage, Sharapova would possibly have to get past Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Top seed and two-time runner-up Simona Halep faces Alison Riske of
the United States in her opener while second seed and Australian Open
champion Caroline Wozniacki starts against another American, Danielle
Top seed Nadal starts his bid for an 11th Roland Garros title against Ukraine's world number 54 Alexander Dolgopolov.
Nadal, fresh from an eighth Rome clay court title having also won his
11th trophies in Barcelona and Monte Carlo already this spring, has a
7-2 record over Dolgopolov.
"It's always special when I come back to Paris where I have had so
many wonderful moments in my career," said Nadal at the draw ceremony
ahead of the French Open which starts on Sunday.
One glance at the draw would have left the 31-year-old Spaniard
feeling even more special after former champions Novak Djokovic, Stan
Wawrinka as well as clay court dangerman Dominic Thiem all landed in the
other half of the draw where Alexander Zverev is the second seed.
Nadal's path to the final could see him face childhood friend Richard
Gasquet in the third round, possibly Denis Shapovalov in the last-16,
then Kevin Anderson, who he beat in the 2017 US Open final, and
third-seed Marin Cilic in the semi-finals.
Zverev, who lost to Nadal in the Rome final last weekend, has never
got beyond the third round in Paris and was defeated in the first round
The 21-year-old German, who is seeded second in the absence of Roger
Federer, begins his French Open against Ricardis Berankis of Lithuania.
Djokovic, the 2016 champion who is down at 22 in the rankings after
struggling to recover from an elbow injury, starts against a qualifier
and could meet fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov in the fourth round.
The 31-year-old Djokovic showed signs of a return to form in Rome where he made the semi-finals, losing to Nadal.
Wawrinka, the 2015 champion in Paris and runner-up to Nadal last year, begins against Spain's Guillermo Garcia Lopez.
Swiss veteran Wawrinka has missed three months of the year after knee
surgery and only returned to action in Geneva this week where he won
one match before losing in the quarter-finals on Thursday.
Defending women's champion Jelena Ostapenko, fifth in the world,
starts against Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine and could face former world
number one and two-time Grand Slam title winner Victoria Azarenka in the
Third seed Garbine Muguruza, who beat Williams in the 2016 final,
starts against Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion in Paris.