By Howard Fendrich
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PARIS _ Two most-talked-about men at this year’s French Open, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, finally play their first matches on Tuesday.
Nadal, the champion nine of the past 10 years, takes on Quentin Halys, an 18-year-old wild-card entry from France who is ranked 296th and has never played a match at a major tournament.
Next on Court Philippe Chatrier will be the No. 1-seeded Djokovic, whose bid to complete a career Grand Slam starts off against Jarkko Nieminen, a 33-year-old from Finland ranked 87th. Djokovic has never lost a Slam match to a player that far down in the rankings.
Much of the pre-tournament buzz was about the potential quarterfinal matchup between Nadal and Djokovic, possible because Nadal’s poor-for-him results dropped his ranking to its lowest point in a decade.
If everyone else wants to look ahead, the players who met in two of the past three finals at the French Open do not.
“I still need to win four matches to get there,” Djokovic pointed out, “as much as he does.”
Djokovic carries a 22-match winning streak into Tuesday, while Nadal has won 66 of 67 matches at Roland Garros, including 35 in a row.
“When I say I don’t know what’s going to happen, I really don’t know what’s going to happen. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have confidence (in) myself to try to be ready for it. I have to think that I am ready for it,” Nadal said. “(It) is a tournament that I love.”
Here’s a look at what else is happening at the French Open on Tuesday:
Serena Williams starts her attempt to win a 20th Grand Slam singles title, and third at the French Open, by facing qualifier Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic. Williams is 57-1 in first-round matches at majors, although the only loss came in Paris in 2012. As if her opponent’s resume isn’t daunting enough, Hlavackova might not want to think about this: The only other time she played Williams, at the 2012 U.S. Open, the American won 6-0, 6-0.
CAN BOUCHARD GET BACK ON TRACK?
Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, who is seeded sixth, meets France’s Kristina Mladenovic, and will be trying to get back on track after a rough patch. Her 2015 record is 7-9. Last year, Bouchard reached three major semifinals, including at the French Open, and was the runner-up at Wimbledon. “She’s obviously on a great path to success, and she’s beaten a lot of top players,” Maria Sharapova said. “She knows how to do it. I’m sure she will be doing it again.”
The schedule is filled with past Grand Slam finalists: two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 2004 U.S. Open and 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, two-time U.S. Open runner-up Caroline Wozniacki.
DIMITROV VS. SOCK
An intriguing matchup between a pair of young players pits 10th-seeded Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria against 37th-ranked Jack Sock of the United States on Court 1. Dimitrov, 24, reached the Wimbledon semifinals last year. Sock, 22, won the 2014 Wimbledon doubles title and collected his first singles title last month in Houston.