Australian Jordan Thompson has been handed one of sport’s cruellest assignments: playing Rafael Nadal in his clay-court kingdom at Roland Garros.
- Thompson will take on 13-time Roland Garros winner Nadal in the opening round, which begins this weekend
- Alex de Minaur, who has just reached the semi-final of the Lyon Open, has been drawn against Frenchman Hugo Gaston
- Australian number one Ajla Tomljanovic will face Estonian fifth seed Anett Kontaveit
Nadal is seeking to regain the French Open title he has won 13 times, with Sydneysider Thompson being the first hurdle in the Spaniard’s path at Roland Garros, doubtless on his “home” Court Philippe Chatrier.
Thursday’s draw has thrown up for Thompson what could be any player’s dream — or nightmare — assignment, but the 28-year-old will surely savour the prospect of battle against the greatest clay-courter in history.
They have met once before, also in Paris, on the indoor hard court at Bercy in the Masters, with Nadal coming out on top 6-1, 7-6 (7/3).
But Nadal has suffered an untimely recurrence of his foot injury in the build-up to this year’s Open, meaning this could be the best time for any contenders to catch the 35-year-old at a venue where he’s lost just three times in 108 matches, most recently in last year’s epic semi-final with champion Novak Djokovic.
Indeed, Thompson can take some encouragement from having reached the third round at Roland Garros three years ago — the best performance by any Australian man in recent times.
Countryman Alexei Popyrin knows what it is like to face Nadal in a Roland Garros opener, having lost to the Spaniard in straight sets last year.
This time, Popyrin has got a less high-profile but still potentially volcanic affair waiting in the unpredictable shape of Italian Fabio Fognini.
Meanwhile, Australian number one Alex de Minaur’s preparation for Roland Garros continues apace, reaching the semi-final of the Lyon Open on Friday after his opponent retired injured.
It is the Australia’s second clay-court semi-final in the space of a month, following his brilliant last-four contest in Barcelona with eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz, where the Sydneysider was beaten after holding match point against the Spanish wunderkind.
De Minaur has landed French opponent Hugo Gaston, the world number 68, in his first round.
If he makes it past the dangerous left-hander, the number 19 seed will then take on a qualifier in the next round before a potential third-round clash, most likely with Canada’s Denis Shapovalov, or the new Danish Rune Holger.
Thanasi Kokkinakis could enjoy the dubious pleasure of a second-round meeting with Alcaraz if he can defeat Spanish grinder Albert Ramos-Vinolas first up.
John Millman has been given a huge task to tame rising American 27th seed Sebastian Korda in his opener, while the ever-resilient James Duckworth, who is just embarking on yet another comeback after the ninth bout of surgery in his career, has a winnable tie against Swede Mikael Ymer.
Jason Kubler meets a fellow qualifier.
Top Australian women’s hope Ajla Tomljanovic, who suffered a thigh injury at the Morocco Open on Thursday, would surely have preferred a much kinder start than having to face Estonian fifth seed Anett Kontaveit when the tournament kicks off on Sunday.
Finally, wildcard Daria Saville has landed a qualifier, while Astra Sharma, who was also knocked out in Morocco on Thursday, faces Russian Varvara Gracheva.