Novak Djokovic has favorable French Open draw, though Rafael Nadal looms in semis – USA TODAY

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Nick McCarvel provides everything you need to know for the men’s side of the French Open.
usa today sports

PARIS — Novak Djokovic’s annual quest to complete the career Grand Slam begins for the fifth time at Roland Garros on Sunday, and Friday he was dealt a digestible draw to do it.

The world No. 1 and men’s favorite will have to go through nine-time champion Rafael Nadal, however, as the two are set to meet in the semifinals.

Should they clash there, it will be their 50th match against each other, Djokovic leading 26-23.

Andy Murray, the world No. 2, anchors the bottom half of the draw, and he is buoyed by his win over Djokovic in the Rome final last week. Stan Wawrinka, the defending French Open champion, was drawn into Murray’s half.

Djokovic will open against veteran Yen-Hsun Lu and then is due to meet the winner of two qualifiers in Round 2. No. 31 seed Federico Delbonis could meet him in the third round, then No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut. Tomas Berdych, the No. 7 seed, is Djokovic’s likely quarterfinal opponent, followed by Nadal in the semis and a possible final against Murray or Wawrinka, if the script plays out as expected.

The script played out just that way up to the final last year for Djokovic, as he beat Nadal in the quarterfinals for the first time in seven career tries in Paris.

But Wawrinkafoiled a fairy-tale ending for Djokovic, firing 40 winners in a four-set final win that gave him a second career Grand Slam.

Roger Federer, the 2009 champion and 17-time major winner, withdrew from the tournament Thursday, saying he was not 100 percent from a back injury.

It marks the first time that Federer, 34, will miss a major tournament since the 1999 U.S. Open. His record streak consecutive Grand Slams played is halted at 65.

“This decision was not easy to make, but I took it to ensure I could play the remainder of the season and help to extend the rest of my career,” Federer said in a statement on his official Facebook page.

Djokovic, Nadal and Berdych are joined on the top half of the draw by No. 6 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Frenchman who made the semifinals last year. Dominic Thiem, the No. 13 seed and winner of 32 matches so far this year, could play the dark horse role, as he’s set to face Nadal in the fourth round.

The bottom half features a potential Murray-Kei Nishikori quarterfinal, while Wawrinka is due to meet powerful Canadian Milos Raonic.

Seeded Americans John Isner (No. 15) and Jack Sock (No. 23) are both on the bottom half as well. Isner could clash against Murray in the fourth round and Sock vs. Raonic at the same stage, though he could have to overcome 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic to do so.

The men’s first round includes a next-generation battle between Croatian 19-year-old Borna Coric and rising American Taylor Fritz, 18. The two are playing for the first time.

American Steve Johnson is tasked with No. 21 seed Feliciano Lopez to start. The Spaniard veteran is playing in his 57th consecutive major, now overtaking Federer for most played in a row currently on tour.

Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in 2014, will challenge Berdych, while Alexander Zverev, a 19-year-old German, plays Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert in a meeting that tennis fanatics will pay close attention to.

Raonic, who was a semifinalist at the Australian Open in January, gets former top 10 player Janko Tipsarevic in the first round. Tipsarevic is coming back from an injury layoff, having missed all of 2014 and playing sparingly last year. And another former top 10 resident, Grigor Dimitrov, battles Tipsarevic’s Serbian compatriot, Viktor Troicki, the No. 22 seed.

This season has been a resurgent one for Nadal, who has captured clay court titles in Monte Carlo (where he registered wins over Wawrinka and Murray) and Barcelona. The Spaniard was beaten for just a second time in 11 appearances in the French Open in 2015 with that loss to Djokovic.

Many have tapped Nadal as the most formidable challenger to Djokovic on the red clay once again, though the Serb won their most recent battle in the Rome quarterfinals. Murray then stopped Djokovic in the final.

After opening against big-serving Australian Sam Groth, Nadal could face Fabio Fognini, who beat him three times last year, in Round 3, followed by Thiem and Tsonga.

Since 2012, Djokovic enters having won three majors prior. He has made the final three out of the last four years, though last year was seen as his best shot after he defeated Nadal.

“Even with Rafa winning Monte Carlo and Barcelona and Murray’s excellent clay form, Novak is still the clear favorite,” U.S. Davis Cup captain and Tennis Channel commentator Jim Courier told USA TODAY Sports.

Courier continued: “Novak has continued to stay above the pack since Australia. He’s taken a few losses, but also won three of the five big events between Melbourne and Paris. In my eyes, the conversation remains ‘Novak versus the field.’”

Along with countrymen Isner, Sock, Johnson and Fritz, Sam Querrey will do battle against fellow American Bjorn Fratangelo in the first round. Fratangelo won the USTA’s reciprocal wild card due to strong play in the spring ATP Challenger clay swing in the U.S. He was the 2011 French Open junior champion, as well.

Rajeev Ram, another American, will meet Jiri Vesely, while Denis Kudla plays Dusan Lajovic and Donald Young takes on Teymurz Gabashvili. Jared Donaldson is the lone American still alive in qualifying, which concludes on Friday.

The men’s main draw is set to start on Sunday.

Novak Djokovic has favorable French Open draw, though Rafael Nadal looms in semis – USA TODAY

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