Nadal to face Isner in opener

Updated: 2011-05-22 09:04


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Nadal to face Isner in opener
Rafael Nadal of Spain returns the ball during a demonstrative match held a day before the start of the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris May 21, 2011. [Photo/Agencies]

French Open draw provides soft starts for favorites at Roland Garros

PARIS - Defending French Open champions Rafael Nadal and Francesca Schiavone were given first-round matches in Friday's draw against Americans who own a combined two career match wins at Roland Garros.

The top-ranked Nadal's bid to tie Bjorn Borg's record of six titles at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament will begin against John Isner. He's a 6-foot-9 American with a big serve who is ranked 39th and best known for winning the longest match in tennis history, 70-68 in the fifth set at Wimbledon last year.

"He's one of these players that you prefer not to have in the first round," Nadal said. "His style of game is dangerous. His serve is unbelievable."

Play begins on Sunday at the French Open, where Nadal is 38-1. Isner is 2-2.

"Always unforgettable memories, no? Seriously, just to be back to this tournament is a really special feeling," Nadal said. "You remember a lot of things from the past years. So, in general, I feel a little bit like at home."

Schiavone, the first Italian woman to win a Grand Slam tournament, is seeded fifth this year and will start off against 89th-ranked Melanie Oudin, a surprise US Open quarterfinalist in 2009 but just 6-16 this season. She's 0-1 at Roland Garros, having lost in the first round a year ago in her tournament debut.

Oudin is from Marietta, Ga, and Isner led the University of Georgia to the 2007 NCAA team tennis championship.

Second-ranked Novak Djokovic, who has won all 37 matches he's played this season, will face Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands in the first round.

"I'm trying to work a little bit on the fitness, because I know it's best-of-five (sets), and you're going to need a lot of energy supply and endurance," said Djokovic, who beat Nadal in the finals of best-of-three-set tournaments in Madrid and Rome on clay this month. "But on the other hand, I have played a lot, so I try to save energy as much as I can."

Djokovic could face tests from 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina or 6-foot-10 big server Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in the third round, and then No 13 Richard Gasquet of France or No 23 Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil in the fourth.

Djokovic lost the first set against Bellucci before coming back to win their semifinal at the Madrid Masters.

Reigning Australian Open champion Djokovic and 16-time Grand Slam title winner Roger Federer were drawn to meet in the French Open semifinals. Nadal could meet No 4 Andy Murray in the semis, while the Spaniard's quarterfinal opponent could be No 5 Robin Soderling, the only man to beat him at Roland Garros.

Soderling was the runner-up in Paris each of the past two years, after upsetting Nadal in the fourth round in 2009, and Federer in the quarterfinals in 2010.


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