PARIS, May 27, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - The French Open gets underway at Roland
Garros on Sunday without injured 14-time champion Rafael Nadal who is absent
for the first time since 2004.
Iga Swiatek, meanwhile, aims to become the first champion to successfully
defend the women's title since Justine Henin in 2007.
AFP Sport looks at the top seeds' rivals looking to create first round
- Flavio Cobolli v Carlos Alcaraz -
Ranked at 159 in the world, 21-year-old Italian Flavio Cobolli has the
unenviable task of taking on world number one and US Open champion Carlos
Alcaraz after coming through qualifying at Roland Garros.
Cobolli, who made the quarter-finals on clay in the ATP event at Munich in
April, is playing in the main draw of a Grand Slam for the first time.
Has already been a champion at Roland Garros -- in 2020, he teamed with
Switzerland's Dominic Stricker to win the boys' doubles.
- Thiago Seyboth Wild v Daniil Medvedev -
A former US Open junior champion, Brazil's Thiago Seyboth Wild is ranked 172
and had to play the qualifiers in Paris.
Back in 2020, when he was still 19, he lifted his maiden ATP title in
Santiago by beating Casper Ruud in the final, becoming the tour's first
champion born in the 2000s.
Seyboth Wild has been plagued by controversy. He was the first pro tennis
player to reveal a Covid diagnosis in 2020 while in 2021 he was reportedly
investigated for abuse of a former girlfriend. He denied the allegations,
describing them as "fabricated and vengeful".
- Aleksandar Kovacevic v Novak Djokovic-
World number 114 Aleksandar Kovacevic takes on 22-Grand Slam title winner and
two-time French Open champion Novak Djokovic -- a player he describes as his
idol -- in the first round. If that wasn't a big enough challenge, the 24-
year-old New Yorker will be making his main draw debut at the majors having
tried and failed to qualify on three previous occasions at the Slams.
In 2023, Kovacevic, whose parents moved to the US from the former Yugoslavia,
has just one win to his name on the main ATP Tour, a first round victory over
Jaume Munar at the Miami Masters.
Blessed with a Masters degree in finance, his modest career prize money of
$316,500 is small change compared to Djokovic's $167 million.
- Cristina Bucsa v Iga Swiatek -
Cristina Bucsa, a 25-year-old Spaniard, has the unenviable task of facing
defending champion and world number one Iga Swiatek in the opening round.
Ranked at 67, the Moldova-born player knows what she's facing after Swiatek
thumped her 6-0, 6-1 at the Australian Open in January.
However, Bucsa took heart from making the last 32 of the main draw from
qualifying and knocking out former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in the
- Marta Kostyuk v Aryna Sabalenka -
Ukraine's Marta Kostyuk will face world number two and Australian Open
champion Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus on Sunday in a highly-charged
Kostyuk, ranked at 39, is a vociferous opponent of Russians and Belarusians
in the sport in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine.
At the US Open last year, the 20-year-old refused to shake hands with former
world number one Victoria Azarenka, opting instead for a touch of the
Belarusian's racquet instead.
"If she hates me, OK. I can't do anything about that," said 25-year-old
Sabalenka who has yet to progress beyond the third round in Paris.
Sabalenka defeated Kostyuk in Dubai in February 2022, just one week before
Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine.
Kostyuk's best Grand Slam performance came in Paris in 2021 when she made the
last 16 where she lost to Iga Swiatek.