Rafael Nadal breezed into the second round of the French Open with a straight-sets win over Egor Gerasimov at Roland Garros.

Seeking a remarkable 13th title at the clay-court grand slam, Nadal had suggested the conditions and heavier balls he described as "slow and dangerous" could impact his hopes.

He came into Monday's meeting with the world number 83 having only played one tournament since February due to the coronavirus pandemic, losing to Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals in Rome.

Neither the balls nor any Nadal rust could prevent him from claiming a 6-4 6-4 6-2 victory, though, Gerasimov's admirable resistance fading after he turned his ankle in the third set.

The first break came Nadal's way courtesy of a deft drop shot and that was enough to claim the first set, which he wrapped up with an ace out wide.

Gerasimov showed impressive athleticism for a man of his 6ft 5in frame but could not find his range when it mattered, and he fired a forehand long to hand Nadal the second set.

The Belarusian looked on course to prolong the inevitable after breaking for the first time to start the third to take a 2-0 lead.

However, Nadal soon erased the deficit and Gerasimov was never the same after receiving heavy strapping on his ankle in a medical timeout following a tumble on the decisive point of the set's fourth game.

Nadal will face world number 236 Mackenzie McDonald in the second round.

Serena Williams overcame a sluggish start to her French Open campaign before easing to a 7-6 (7-2) 6-0 victory over Kristie Ahn.

Aiming to finally secure a 24th grand slam title and draw level with Margaret Court's record tally, Williams twice dropped serve in a competitive opening set that spanned 74 minutes. 

Ahn had also provided solid early resistance when the two Americans met in the first round at the recent US Open, though eventually lost on that occasion in straight sets. 

The world number 102 suffered a similar fate in the French capital, simply unable to cope against an opponent who moved through the gears to cruise through to round two.

Williams had appeared to warm quickly to her task despite the cool temperatures in Paris, winning her first service game to love in a hurry.

However, the sixth seed stuttered afterwards and was broken next time around, Ahn edging ahead at the sixth attempt to grab a lead she maintained through to the eighth game. 

Williams levelled at 4-4 – much to her obvious delight as she yelled out when finally clinching a game that spanned 12 minutes and 42 seconds – and while broken immediately afterwards, Ahn was crucially unable to serve out for the set. 

The tie-break ultimately proved a one-sided affair, the three-time champion on clay clinching it in style with an ace. 

Playing in a far more aggressive manner, Williams dominated in the second to set up a clash with another familiar foe in Tsvetana Pironkova, who she beat in the last eight at Flushing Meadows. 

Data slam: Williams was surprisingly tepid in her approach in the early going. Unable to assert any dominance, she committed 28 unforced errors in a first set that could quite easily have gone Ahn's way. Yet from sluggish beginnings, she grew into the match and the second was far more straightforward, aided by four aces and 11 winners.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Williams – 26/36
Ahn – 13/27

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Williams – 11/5
Ahn – 1/4

BREAK POINTS WON

Williams – 5/14
Ahn – 2/8

Birthday girl Simona Halep described her French Open first-round victory over Sara Sorribes Tormo as "the perfect present".

Fresh from winning the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome, Halep arrived in Paris as favourite and top seed for the final grand slam of the year.

And she marked her 29th birthday with a 6-4 6-0 triumph under the new roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

"The perfect present was that I won, of course," said the 2018 champion. "It was a really special day playing on Roland Garros on my birthday, so it's going to be pretty unique maybe forever.

"I cannot celebrate much, because I have to stay in the room, so I will have a bottle of water.

"I will speak with my very close ones and loved ones. Just that. Nothing special. After the tournament, I will [celebrate properly]."

While Halep, who now faces compatriot Irina-Camelia Begu, had the luxury of an enclosed arena the cold weather outside caused issues for others on a day that saw Venus Williams make an early exit.

AZA-BRRR-ENKA

It was a chilly day in the French capital and few people were more bothered by the conditions than Victoria Azarenka, who donned a jacket and leggings for her match with Danka Kovinic. 

The former world number one triumphed 6-1 6-2 but she left the court three games into the first set claiming it was "too cold", a consequence of the tournament taking place four months later than planned.

"I think my opponent first of all slipped in the third game, so I think she was also feeling a little bit uncomfortable," said Azarenka.

"And I just asked like when my grip is getting wet in between points, are we going to still continue to play?

"And then [the official] told me that if I'm willing to wait a little bit longer while the drizzle stops, because the rain was supposed to increase, and I said absolutely not because I don't see a point of sitting on the court when it's eight degrees.

"I at the same time asked my opponent if she wants to wait on the court or she wants to go off court, and she said she doesn't want to wait on the court.

"So, I'm not going to waste my time sitting there and getting cold."

KONTA DUMPED OUT BY GAUFF

Coco Gauff dumped out ninth seed Johanna Konta as the 16-year-old produced a fine display.

Gauff came through in straight sets, beating the Briton 6-3 6-3 to secure a second-round showdown with qualifier Martina Trevisan.

It constitutes a shock premature departure for Konta, who reached the semi-finals in 2019.

VENUS DONE WITH 2020

Venus Williams declaring she is "done" with 2020 is a statement with which many will be able to identify.

The American veteran, a 2002 finalist at this slam, was beaten 6-4 6-4 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, who will now face Azarenka.

Asked if she had any plays to play again this year, the 40-year-old replied: "I'm going home from here. I'm done. If there is somewhere to play, I won't be there."

One player who will have at least one more match this year is Eugenie Bouchard, who overcame Anna Kalinskaya 6-4 6-4.

Simona Halep eventually warmed to her French Open task as she won her opening match on a chilly first Sunday at Roland Garros.

Under the new roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier and on her 29th birthday, title favourite Halep stumbled through the opening stages before pulling away to beat Spain's Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4 6-0.

From 4-2 behind in the opening set, after three consecutive breaks, Halep won 10 straight games to reach the second round of a tournament at which she won her first grand slam title two years ago.

She landed 90 per cent of first serves in the second set, and struck 11 winners to five from her fading opponent.

Fresh from winning the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome, Halep arrived in Paris as favourite and top seed for the final grand slam of the year.

The second set was a stroll against Sorribes Tormo, a player who had only won one match in three previous main-draw appearances at the clay-court slam.

Halep's early wobble may have been partly attributable to the unfamiliar conditions, with the temperature barely into double figures as the match began.

Because the tournament has been moved back from its usual May start amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Paris will feel quite different to the players in action over the 15-day tournament.

Romanian Halep paired a pink outfit with black leggings, and initially her tennis was as cold as the autumnal climate, but she predictably took control of matters and rolls on.

She was serenaded to mark her birthday by former Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli during a post-match interview, with Halep hoping for more to celebrate in the coming fortnight.

Data slam: Erratic early, but Halep strengths shine through

Halep took charge of this contest once she cut down the unforced errors, which blighted her performance in the opening stages. She fired 12 winners in the opening set and 11 in the quickfire second, but the error count told the story of her improvement. After racking up 15 in the first set, Halep trimmed that number to a steadier eight in the second. She was clinical on her break-point opportunities, carving out nine and taking a healthy six of those.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Halep – 23/23
Sorribes Tormo – 10/16

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Halep – 1/0
Sorribes Tormo – 0/2

BREAK POINTS WON

Halep – 6/9
Sorribes Tormo – 2/4

Serena Williams said she does not have any expectations at the French Open and is simply "rolling with the punches" this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The rescheduled French Open will get underway at Roland Garros on Sunday, with new government restrictions only allowing 1,000 fans per day.

The French Open was due to take place from May to June but the COVID-19 crisis forced the grand slam to be pushed back in Paris.

As former world number one and sixth seed Williams gears up for her opening-round match against Kristie Ahn, the 23-time grand slam champion was asked about her preparations and said: "It's so different, but I feel like this year, you've just got to roll with the punches.

"You can't expect anything and there are so many things, negative things - and positive - a lot of world changes that happened this year, so I'm not really feeling any bad way about anything really."

Williams experienced the US Open without fans in New York earlier this month – the American superstar beaten in the semi-finals by Victoria Azarenka.

The 39-year-old will resume her bid for a record-equalling 24th major crown at the French Open, where she has won three titles.

"I think the only difference is that it's at the end of September. Usually I end my season after the [US] Open, but this time around I'm here at Roland-Garros," Williams said. "That's the only difference. It's always cold for me."

Williams will also go from the American hard courts straight to clay without a lead-up tournament.

"I honestly don't really think about it," she added. "I think I had some good practices. I haven't played on clay yet, so we'll see.

"I thoroughly enjoy the clay so much, I just love it. So I'm looking forward to playing some."

Lewis Hamilton has the backing of tennis legend Serena Williams as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher's long-standing record tally of Formula One race wins.

The Briton, a six-time world champion, will start from pole at Sunday's Russian Grand Prix after he avoided a penalty for leaving the track during qualifying.

If he can hold off the challenge of his rivals, the 35-year-old will equal Schumacher's total of 91 grand prix victories, and long-time fan Williams – who is chasing a landmark of her own at the French Open – is certain Hamilton will ultimately surpass the German.

"He is for me the greatest driver that our generation has seen," said Williams on her 39th birthday as she prepared to challenge for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title.

"I'm confident that he will break the record of Michael Schumacher, who was also a fabulous driver.

"Lewis and I are super close. I've known him for years. I love that guy. He's a really good friend of mine. The guy is such a champion, has such a champion's mindset.

"I look at what he does training, physically, his job, it's really no words for it, to be honest."

Hamilton has campaigned for greater diversity in motorsport and has never been afraid to speak his mind, which is a quality Williams has come to admire in him.

"Lewis is so intense," she said. "If you know anything, even if you're a fan, you know he lives his life on his sleeve. He's very emotional. He says what he says.

"That's just who he is. He doesn't care who you are. That's one thing I've grown to really appreciate about him, as well."

Hamilton has won six times already this season, including last time out at the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.

Williams, seeded sixth in Paris, opens her campaign at Rolland Garros against Kristie Ahn on Monday and, while history may beckon, she is happy just to be playing at such a ripe age.

"I honestly never thought I would be playing at my age," she admitted.

"I mean, I don't quite look 39. I don't know when it's going to stop for me. I just have fun. When I feel it's over, it's over.

"But I could have guaranteed and pretty much bet my life that I would not have been playing at 39. This is why I don't bet."

Novak Djokovic insists he is "back to normal" ahead of the French Open and determined to be the "best version" of himself in Paris after being thrown out of the US Open.

Djokovic left Flushing Meadows in shame this month, having been disqualified for striking a linesperson with the ball during his last-16 match against Pablo Carreno Busta.

The world number one was full of remorse but responded by winning the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome last week to take his tally of ATP Masters 1000 titles to a record 36.

Djokovic, who will play Mikael Ymer in the first round in a Paris major that starts on Sunday, says the dramatic incident in New York is still on his mind but it will not affect him in the final grand slam of the year.

"Obviously I am going to be extra careful of hitting a tennis ball around the court," said the 17-time major champion.

"That's something that is obviously staying in my mind after what happened in New York. It's going to stay there for a long time.

"Of course, I will make sure I don't make the same mistake twice. Whatever happened, happened. I had to accept it and move on. Of course, it was a shock for me and a lot of people.

"But that's life, that's sport. These things can happen. But I don't think that this will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court.

"I mean, I won the tournament in Rome just a week later after what happened in New York.

"I did not feel any kind of emotional disturbance or difficulty to actually be able to play or still express my emotions in whatever way. Of course, I try to keep my negative reactions on the court as less as possible.

"But I guess it happens as well. I'm not going to be down on myself because of that. I also try to kind of accept it and forgive myself for what happened and move on. I'm human being. I have flaws as everybody else.

"Regardless of the amount of years and experience that I have on the tour, these things can still happen. It's because I care. I really want to be my best version as a player, as a human being on the court, and win a tennis match.

"Because of the care that I have for that, I sometimes express my emotions in good way or maybe less good way. But it is what it is.

"As I said, I don't think significantly it does impact me that I'm unable now to show the fist pump or scream or something like that. It has happened in Rome already and everything is fine. I'm back to normal."

Rafael Nadal is braced for the most difficult conditions he has ever faced at the French Open and believes new heavier balls could be "dangerous" for players at Roland Garros.

Nadal is a firm favourite to take his record tally of titles at Roland Garros to an astonishing 13 in Paris, where the final grand slam of the year starts on Sunday.

The Spanish great has the chance to match Roger Federer's record haul of 20 major triumphs in a tournament he has dominated, with his Swiss rival absent after undergoing knee surgery.

Yet Nadal comes into his favourite event, staged four months later than usual due to the coronavirus pandemic, on the back of a rare clay-court loss to Diego Schwartzman in the Internazionali d'Italia quarter-finals.

Novak Djokovic said Nadal is beatable on clay and the 34-year-old agrees, particularly in much cooler climate with slower balls that he has become accustomed to. 

Asked about world number one Djokovic's comments, he said: "Yeah, 100 per cent true. I always have been beatable on clay. He beat me a lot of times. But at the same time is true that I had a lot of success in this surface.

"The situation is special. Conditions here probably are the most difficult conditions for me ever in Roland Garros for so many different facts. The ball is completely different.

"The ball is super slow, heavy. It's very cold. Slow conditions. Of course, the preparations have been less than usual. But you know what, I am here to fight and to play with the highest intensity possible, to practice with the right attitude, to give me a chance.

"That's the main goal for me. Be competitive on Monday [when he plays Egor Gerasimov in the first round], and let's try. Just day by day. I know very well this place. Is about be patient, be positive just trying to find the positive vibes every single day."

Nadal says he has practiced with the new balls in his homeland and is not happy with the change, which he believes could cause players to sustain injuries.

"I practiced with the balls in Mallorca before the comeback. In Mallorca with warm conditions, the ball was very slow, I do not think it is a good ball to play on clay.

"That is my personal opinion. Is not the right ball to play on clay court. Even with these conditions it makes things tougher. But I knew before arrived here. No problem at all. I'll just accept the challenge.

"I really believe that the organisation needs to take a look on that for the next couple of years, for the health of the players, too, because the ball super heavy becomes dangerous for the elbow and for the shoulders, I think.

"But this year it is what we have. I'm just staying positive with this. I know we are going to have to play with this ball, so I need to find the best feelings possible with these conditions.

"That's what I am looking forward to, just practicing with the right motivation, right ambition, and then let's see what I can do or what I can't do."

Simona Halep is "honoured" to be the favourite to win the French Open and the top seed says that tag will not put extra pressure on her to regain the title.

Halep savoured a first grand slam triumph at Roland Garros in 2018 and went on to double her tally at Wimbledon last year.

The world number two has won back-to-back tournaments since returning to the WTA Tour following a six-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, her latest success coming at the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome last weekend

Defending champion Ash Barty, the world number one, and US Open champion Naomi Osaka are among the absentees for what will be the final major of the year.

Halep, who plays Sara Sorribes Tormo in the first round of her grand slam comeback after skipping the US Open, appears to be more concerned about the cold and rain in the French capital than being expected to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for a second time.

The Romanian said: "I'm honoured to hear that I am the favourite, people thinking that I'm the favourite. But I don't look in that way.

"I know that most of the players are favourite because everyone is working hard, everyone is ready for this tournament. So I'm not going into that too much. I just try to play my chance, try to play every match, and we will see how it is going to be in the end.

"It's not extra pressure [to be the favourite]. I'm used to this kind of pressure because I've been number one seeded in the past. I've been in this position. So, no, I take it in a right way, and I take it as a normal tournament. So no extra pressure."

She added: "I feel good. I feel confident. But you never know. So I will take day by day and I will try to give my best every day to get ready for the tournament."

Halep says it will be strange to play in the clay-court grand slam four months later than usual as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

The 28-year-old said: "To play Roland Garros in September, end of September, it's a little bit weird. But it's nice that we have the chance to play at this tournament. We should thank everyone for fighting so hard to do it possible. Let's see now who is going to be ready for it."

"When it's cold, it's a little bit heavier and a little bit different. It's a big difference between Rome and here, that's for sure. Fifteen degrees less. I feel the cold. I feel like struggling a little bit. But it is the same for everybody."

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) says it "deeply regrets" new government restrictions that will only allow 1,000 spectators per day into Roland Garros to watch the French Open. 

Tournament organisers were forced to reduce the number of people allowed into the famous venue on a daily basis from 11,500 to 5,000 last week due to new rules introduced to try and stop the rise in coronavirus infection rates. 

Just two days before the grand slam gets under way, the FFT has had to inform those with tickets that they may be left disappointed due to further restrictions. 

A daily draw will now take place to determine who will be able to attend what will be the last major of the year. 

A statement on the French Open website said: "Following the announcements made by government authorities, 1,000 spectators will be permitted to enter the Roland Garros grounds per day. 

"This cap applies across all 16 courts in the 12-hectare site and is equivalent to one 35th of the usual number of spectators that have attended in the first week of the main draw in previous years.    

"From the very outset of the public health crisis that our country is experiencing, the French Tennis Federation has consistently worked closely with government departments, to determine how to organise the tournament in the current situation.  It deeply regrets these new restrictions. 

"On Sunday, 27 September, the world's greatest players will compete in the main draw, in a transformed stadium, in a tournament broadcast in 222 countries around the world. 

"The new rules mean that we will be required to adapt our ticketing situation, by organising a draw for each day of the tournament among the current ticket-holders. These draws will be supervised by a legal custodian."

Novak Djokovic is putting together a stellar year in a year like no other.

The world number one heads into the French Open on the back of another title – at the Internazionali d'Italia – and carrying a 31-1 win-loss record in 2020.

That '1' is also one he would prefer to forget, after being defaulted for hitting a linesperson with a ball in his fourth-round clash with Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open.

But his own brain fades aside – the organisation of the ill-fated Adria Tour amid the COVID-19 pandemic included – Djokovic has been unstoppable this year, before and after the coronavirus-enforced break.

While Roger Federer is sidelined, Rafael Nadal is back and the 'King of Clay' will take some stopping at Roland Garros.

The rescheduling of the major – from a May start to September – has given Djokovic an additional boost in his bid for a second French Open title amid questions over how the different weather could affect Nadal.

In his current form, Djokovic will also be hard to stop. We take a look at his 2020 in numbers.

Complete and utter dominance

When you consider the manner of Djokovic's only loss in 2020, it has thus far been a year of complete dominance.

The Serbian has won 72 of the 82 completed sets he has played, and none of those were dropped in his meetings with Nadal (ATP Cup) and Federer (Australian Open) this year.

While Federer will miss the rest of 2020 after knee surgery, Nadal returned to action in Rome, where he lost to Diego Schwartzman in the quarter-finals. That was the Spanish great's first tournament since the ATP Tour season, suspended in March, resumed.

The world's top 20 men have not been a problem for Djokovic so far this year. He is 12-0 against players ranked in the top 20, including 7-0 when playing top-10 players. Djokovic's last meeting with a top-10 opponent came in his final win over Stefanos Tsitsipas in Dubai in February.

Djokovic – who has four ATP Tour titles in 2020 and also helped Serbia win the ATP Cup – has made his best start since an extraordinary 2011.

It is just the second time in his illustrious career that he has won at least 31 of his first 32 matches in a year, having made an incredible 41-0 start nine years ago.

Given Nadal's inferior record at Melbourne Park, it is no surprise the Spaniard has never managed such a start, while Federer got away strongly in 2005 and 2006, also going 31-1 before extending those runs to 35-1 and 33-1 respectively prior to his next losses.

But after being defaulted at the US Open and with Wimbledon not held due to COVID-19, Djokovic will want another grand slam win at Roland Garros to truly make his form in 2020 count. If he can, it will mark his sixth year with at least two major victories, joining Federer in achieving that feat and moving clear of Nadal and Roy Emerson.

And another piece of history could await. Djokovic is aiming to become the first man in the Open Era to win every grand slam twice, and just the third in history after Emerson and Rod Laver.

The 41-0 start in 2011

Nine years ago, Djokovic put together an extraordinary year on the back of a staggering start.

He won his first 41 matches of 2011 before the run was ended by Federer in the French Open semi-finals.

Djokovic won the Australian Open and titles in Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome heading into Roland Garros.

The streak included four wins over Nadal, three against Federer and two defeats of Andy Murray, and Djokovic would finish the incredible year with three grand slam titles.

After a difficult ending to the campaign, he ended up with a 70-6 win-loss record, achieving a win percentage (92.1) he has only bettered once since – when he went 82-6 (93.2) in 2015.

Margaret Court's record is still in play, but Serena Williams' era of dominance on the WTA Tour looks to be winding down as another grand slam approaches.

Williams has won none of the past 13 majors, dating back to her most recent success at the 2017 Australian Open, though she missed the first four of those having given birth.

This is the 23-time champion's longest stretch without a grand slam win since she made her Melbourne bow in 1998.

Williams has reached at least the semi-finals in five of her past eight major appearances, yet she has not recorded a win in that time and, having not made the Roland Garros quarter-finals since 2016, an end to that miserable run appears unlikely in the coming weeks.

So could the future of the women's game be present in Paris? Well, finding Serena's heir is proving rather difficult.

While she is one of seven female players to have claimed 10 or more major titles, Serena is the only member of that elite group to have won a championship in the 21st century.

Justine Henin and Serena's sister Venus have each had seven wins, yet other genuine rivals have been a rarity over the past 20 years.

Roland Garros results have illustrated this trend as well as any championship. Only Serena, Henin and Maria Sharapova have won multiple French Open titles since the start of the 2000 season, with Henin's 2005-2007 run the last time a woman celebrated consecutive triumphs on the red clay.

That drought will continue for at least another year, too, due to Ash Barty's absence.

Another name missing from this year's draw is perhaps the most likely candidate to emulate Williams' success. US Open champion Naomi Osaka is still just 22 but has won three of the past seven majors she has contested. That also amounts to just three victories in three seasons, but time is on her side as she looks to shape her own legacy.

Williams is Osaka's idol, as was so painfully evident when the Japanese shed tears following a grand slam breakthrough that came during Serena's 2018 US Open meltdown. The pair watched one another at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, although Serena's last-four defeat prevented a highly anticipated final rematch.

"I feel like she's such an intense player that is really exciting to watch," Williams said of Osaka, who looks to have adopted her role model's single-minded drive.

Discussing her impressive grand slam record prior to this month's victory over Victoria Azarenka, Osaka revealed her approach: "No-one remembers anyone but the winner."

Yet Osaka has work to do if she is going to be a winner on all surfaces like Williams, one of just two players - along with Sharapova - to win a career Grand Slam since the turn of the century. Angelique Kerber could join that club in the coming weeks, yet French Open success seems increasingly unlikely for the two-time quarter-finalist and world number 22. Osaka has not been past the third round at Roland Garros or Wimbledon, reserving her success for the hard courts.

Meanwhile, although victory at the Australian Open in 2019 quickly added to Osaka's first triumph, that second title has proved tricky for a number of other hopefuls.

Since Serena's 23rd major honour, six women have become one-off grand slam winners - including Sofia Kenin, 21, and Bianca Andreescu, 20. The pair are younger than several other champions, yet neither have even reached a quarter-final outside of their sole successes.

Andreescu has seen her 2020 season completely wrecked by injury and withdrew from Roland Garros this week. In her stead, others will look to join her as a champion. Qatar Open winner Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and last year's French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova are each younger than Osaka and hold a place in the WTA's top 20.

Then, of course, there is Coco Gauff, ranked 51st.

The 16-year-old beat Venus at both the 2019 US Open and the 2020 Australian Open, also eliminating defending champion Osaka at the latter. At each tournament, she lost only to the eventual winner.

"She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age," Venus said. "I think the sky's the limit for her."

But a first-round exit at the US Open represented a reality check for Gauff. With no Barty and no Osaka, might she seize the opportunity and bounce back in stunning style at Roland Garros?

Or is this Serena's time? Number 24 at last. It is up to the next generation to ensure she cannot afford to keep passing up such chances.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem was dealt a difficult hand in an exciting men's French Open draw, while Serena Williams was handed a tough route in the women's competition.

Thiem finally ended his wait for a first major title in New York earlier this month, beating Alexander Zverev in a five-set epic after losing his prior three finals.

Two of those came in the most recent two French Open finals against Rafael Nadal, although there will be no repeat this year.

Thiem is in the bottom half of the draw along with Nadal, who starts against Egor Gerasimov, and has a tricky schedule right from the outset.

The Austrian has grand slam winner Marin Cilic in the first round, and Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka – two other former major champions – are potential fourth-round opponents as they begin against one another in an intriguing clash.

Nadal could have to tackle John Isner in the last 16, while Zverev is also in the bottom half of the draw.

World number one Novak Djokovic has Mikael Ymer up first and could meet Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarter-finals, having been defaulted from the US Open when facing the Spaniard – his only defeat of the year.

Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are in the top half, too.

Meanwhile, Williams, still bidding for a record-equalling 24th major title, is set to meet Victoria Azarenka in round four.

Azarenka came from a set down to beat Williams in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows before she was defeated in the championship match by Naomi Osaka, who is absent in France.

Defending champion Ash Barty and 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu are also missing, while world number 10 Belinda Bencic withdrew shortly before the draw.

But Williams still faces a difficult task just to reach the final.

A potential victory over Azarenka in the last 16 could see the 38-year-old paired with third seed Elina Svitolina in the quarters, while top seed, world number two and 2018 champion Simona Halep is also in the same half.

Williams starts against Kristie Ahn, who she defeated in her US Open opener.

Kiki Bertens is in the same quarter as Halep, which sees arguably the pick of the first-round matches as Coco Gauff takes on Johanna Konta, last year's semi-finalist.

Marketa Vondrousova, beaten by Barty in the 2019 final, is a potential fourth-round opponent for Halep.

Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova are in the same section as former champion Jelena Ostapenko and Germany's Angelique Kerber, who could complete a career Grand Slam.

Garbine Muguruza, another previous winner, is in Sofia Kenin's quarter with Aryna Sabalenka.

Novak Djokovic believes Rafael Nadal is still the favourite to win the French Open despite his quarter-final exit at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Djokovic continued his stellar year by claiming the title in Rome thanks to a 7-5 6-3 win over Diego Schwartzman in the final on Monday.

The Serbian won his 36th ATP 1000 title, moving him ahead of Nadal into the outright lead, in the ideal preparation for the French Open starting on Sunday.

While Nadal was beaten by Schwartzman in the last eight in Rome, Djokovic said the 12-time French Open champion still deserved favouritism at Roland Garros.

"It's Nadal. Even though he lost this week I still think, and a lot of people will agree, he is the number one favourite," Djokovic told a news conference.

"The record that he has there, the history of his results, you just can't put anyone in front of him. But Diego showed Nadal is beatable on clay.

"The conditions that they played on, heavy clay, not much bounce, humid, night session, we are going to have that as well in Paris. Night session, under the lights, a little bit less bounce, I am pretty sure he does not prefer that to high bounce. I know he likes the high bounce, he likes hot and fast and warm conditions where he can use his spin a lot.

"Let's see. It's going to be interesting. Even though he's the number one favourite there are players who can win against him there.

"It's obviously best of five. You've got to be really fit to be able to achieve that."

A 17-time grand slam champion, Djokovic won the French Open in 2016, while he has lost three finals at the tournament, including two to Nadal.

But with the event rescheduled from a May start to September, Djokovic hopes the cooler weather will suit him in Paris.

"I cannot hope for Rafa not being in the final. I can hope for myself being in the finals and fighting for the trophy," he said.

"That's probably the player who has the highest chance of being in a final in the French Open and any tournament for that matter. If there is one tournament, that is Roland Garros and that's Rafa that you would bet on. But conditions will be different.

"I think I experienced something that might be the case in terms of conditions in Paris. Little bit of rain, wet court, clay, not much of a bounce, a bit cold. That's what I think people have been talking about from the Paris weather standpoint. I'm fine with those conditions."

US Open champion Naomi Osaka will miss the French Open due to a hamstring injury.

The Japanese star claimed her third grand slam title with a win over Victoria Azarenka in the final in New York on Saturday.

Osaka had her left leg heavily strapped during the tournament and the 22-year-old confirmed she would miss the French Open, with the main draw due to start on September 27.

"Hey guys, first and foremost thank [sic] so much for all the support over the last three weeks. I couldn't have done it without you!" she posted on Twitter.

"Unfortunately I won't be able to play the French Open this year. My hamstring is still sore so I wouldn't have enough time to prepare for the clay – these two tournaments came too close to each other for me this time. I wish the organisers and players all the best."

Osaka's best result at Roland Garros has been reaching the third round three times, including in 2019.

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