Though Roger Federer’s withdrawal evened out the men’s draw and eliminated the potential for outright chaos, the draws for the 2016 French Open were still consequential for both tours. Created Friday in Paris, it revealed answers to the critical placings of players like Rafael Nadal, Victoria Azarenka, Simona Halep, Kei Nishikori and others, resulting in easy paths for some and more arduous journeys for others.
Andy Murray: The #2 seed was already guaranteed to be on the opposite side of the draw from Novak Djokovic, and despite drawing the only threatening player from the 5-8 group (Nishikori) in the quarterfinals, Murray will not have to grind to reach the second week. He’ll start with 37 year old Radek Stepanek, who took a set off him in Madrid but is no threat to outlast the Scot on clay. From there, the seeds in his way to the quarterfinals are John Isner (returning from injury), Benoit Paire (the flair usually impresses more than the results) and Ivo Karlovic (a non-factor on clay). He doesn’t have a walk to the final, but an easy first four rounds and avoiding Nadal leave Murray with little excuses to not make his first championship match at Roland Garros.
Simona Halep: After winning Madrid, the 2014 Roland Garros finalist finds herself in the softest section of the women’s draw, the Aga Radwanska quarter. Though Mirjana Lucic-Baroni looms in round three (the veteran stunned Halep in Paris last year), Halep won’t get a cleaner draw at a Slam than this. Radwanska’s weak on clay, Lucie Safarova has had bad luck with health since reaching the final in Paris last year, and Halep thumped Sam Stosur in Madrid. Anything less than the semis would be underachieving for a player as talented as Halep.
Novak Djokovic: The World No. 1 received a draw as flimsy as Murray’s, but his comes with a bit of an asterisk. While the likes of Robert Bautista Agut, Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer can’t trouble Djokovic en route to the semis, being well-rested might come with a trade-off of not being battle-tested before facing Nadal. Djokovic will obviously be the favorite should they meet, but coasting through a draw can prove to be a disadvantage when it comes time to scrap and claw in a tense match down the line.
Stan Wawrinka: The Swiss tank hasn’t been able to get moving this clay season, stalling out with early losses in Madrid and Rome. Wawrinka received a big boost to his chances of defending his French Open crown though, landing in Murray’s half and avoiding any really dangerous opposition in his quarter. Milos Raonic upset Wawrinka in Australia, but that won’t be happening on clay. Combine that with some mildly encouraging results (he’s set to play in the Geneva final on Saturday) and Stan the Man’s odds look a lot better than they did a few days ago.
Victoria Azarenka: Resurgent after a couple years lost to injury, the Indian Wells and Miami champion saw her momentum came to a halt on clay due to a back injury. She says she’s been practicing pain-free, but landing in the Serena Williams quarter means less time to get going again should she need it, as well as fewer points on her ranking if she loses to Williams (points that she needs to get back in the top four and guarantee she can’t play Serena until the semifinals of a tournament).
Kei Nishikori: Federer’s withdrawal hurt Nishikori the most, as it eliminated any chance of an easy path to the semifinals for him. He ended up in the Murray quarter, and could have to grind just to get to that match. His sub-quarter has a bunch of volatile floaters, as well as Nick Kyrgios. Though Nishikori has come out on top against Kyrgios in Miami and Madrid, no one wanted to see him in their path. Given Nishikori’s struggles to close big matches and the chance he wears out due to his smaller frame and injury history, his chances don’t look good, despite a very impressive clay season thus far.
Angie Kerber: The Aussie Open champ is a big question in Paris. She’s had great results since becoming a Slam winner (Stuttgart title, Miami and Charleston semifinals) and some flummoxing results as well (lost first matches in Madrid and Rome). A leg injury has also dogged her but the recent losses seem more due to frustrations over lack of rhythm. This draw could easily break, but a Kasatkina-Keys-Bacsinszky route to a semi against Williams or Azarenka could be rough.
Rafael Nadal: With a couple easy opening matches, Nadal will get to build some momentum as he tends to do best in Paris, though the next few rounds could be tricky. Key word: could. Nemesis Fabio Fognini could be there in the third round, but a bad season means he’s no lock to get there, while Dominic Thiem (the most feared non-top 10 opponent in the whole draw) could await the King of Clay in the round of 16. Thiem though might be well worn out after an insanely loaded schedule. The Austrian will be playing his 46th match of the year on Saturday in the Nice final (Djokovic is next closest with 40 matches on the year).