Nadal opens bid for 12th French Open title against qualifier

SAMUEL PETREQUIN
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Defending champions Spain's Rafael Nadal, left, and Romania's Simona Halep pose next to the cups during the draw of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Thursday, May 23, 2019. The French Open tennis tournament starts Sunday May 26. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal will start his campaign for a record-extending 12th title at the French Open against a qualifier. And if he makes it to the second round of the clay-court Grand Slam, another qualifier will be waiting.

The defending champion was handed what looked like quite an easy draw Thursday at Roland Garros stadium, where the Spanish player attended the ceremony and said he was happy with his form.

Nadal won his first title of the season last week at the Italian Open, where he looked close to his best after some uncharacteristic struggles on clay.

"It was an important title for me," Nadal said. "I played very well throughout the tournament, I'm very happy to find myself in this situation."

In the women's draw, Simona Halep will open the defense of her title against Ajla Tomljanovic. Top-ranked Naomi Osaka, who seeks a third consecutive major championship, will be up against Anna Karolína Schmiedlová.

Coming to Paris with only one clay-court match since last year's French Open, 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams was drawn into the top half of the draw with Osaka and Halep. She will take on Vitalia Diatchenko in the first round.

Osaka will be up against a tough opponent if she gets past Schmiedlova, facing the winner of a first-round match pitting 2017 champion Jelena Ostapenko and former top-ranked player Victoria Azarenka.

Nadal, who last year became the first male player to win 11 titles at the same Grand Slam tournament, could meet his old foe Roger Federer in the semifinals. Federer, in his first French Open match since 2015, will face Lorenzo Sonego of Italy and could face Stefanos Tsitsipas in a potential quarterfinal matchup.

Federer is back on clay after skipping that part o the season for the past two years. He reached the quarterfinals in Madrid and Rome, where he withdrew because of a right leg injury.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic will begin his run against Hubert Hurkacz. The Serb has been enjoying a good run of form during the clay season, winning the title in Madrid before losing to Nadal in Rome.

Organizers announced before the draw that Tomas Berdych and Milos Raonic had withdrawn from the tournament, which starts on Sunday.

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