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Friday, 25 May 2018 15:54 PM BST
Assessing the Roland-Garros draw takes a look at the 2018 Roland-Garros singles draws. READ MORE

Serena Williams could play Maria Sharapova in blockbuster

Serena Williams’ first Grand Slam tournament since coming back from maternity leave could feature a clash with her long-time rival Maria Sharapova in the second week of Roland-Garros.

A possible fourth round meeting between two of the biggest stars of the women’s game, both former world No. s who have won a combined five Roland-Garros titles between them, would surely be one of the most anticipated matches of the entire championships.

Both women have a point to prove.

Although Williams leads the former top-ranked Russian 19-2 with her last loss dating back to 2004, she will be playing in her first grand slam event since the 2017 Australian Open, which she won while pregnant.

But first Williams, 36, will have to overcome the 70th-ranked Czech Krystyna Pliskova, the twin sister of the former US Open finalist Karolina, in the opening round.

Ranked 453rd in the world after giving birth to a baby girl in September, Williams has only played four matches on the women’s Tour this year. After ending the US hard court swing in March with a mediocre run of 2-2, Williams shunned the clay to work on her fitness.

Unlike Williams, the 28th-seeded Sharapova enters Roland-Garros approaching her best form since coming back from a 15-month long doping ban in April last year.

She’ll start against a qualifier in the first round, with a possible third-round against Karolina Pliskova, the sixth seed.

Williams vs Sharapova isn’t the only blockbuster match in town: how about 2016 winner Garbine Muguruza against 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia for an opening round? The Spaniard leads 5-1 in their head-to-head.

Simona Halep, the world No.1 and title favourite from Romania, was drawn against American Alison Riske in her opening round, followed by a tough possible third round against Kristina Mladenovic of France, a quarter-finalist last year.

Jelena Ostapenko, a former ballroom dancer from Latvia who stunned Halep in last year’s final, will start against Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine and could face two-time grand slam champion Victoria Azarenka in the next round.

Britain's Jo Konta, a Wimbledon semi-finalist last year, faces a tough first round against Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, a quarter-finalist in 2016. Konta has never won a match on the Parisian clay in three previous appearances.

Nadal avoids main rivals

The draw has been kind to Rafael Nadal of Spain, who starts his quest for an 11th Roland-Garros title against Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov, safe in the knowledge that his main rivals are safely in the bottom half of the draw.

A test for the world No.1 could come in the form of a fourth round matchup with Canada's Denis Shapovalov, while Marin Cilic - who beat the Spaniard in this year's Australian Open semi-finals - could lie in wait at the same stage here in Paris.

The bottom quarter of the men's singles draw is loaded with talent, containing Dominic Thiem of Austria, the only man to have beaten Nadal on clay this year, 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland, the second-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany and Japan's Kei Nishikori.

Elsewhere, Novak Djokovic, on the comeback trail this season after elbow surgery, has avoided that 'quarter of death' and starts against a qualifier, but could face Spanish veteran David Ferrer in the second round.

Kyle Edmund, flying the flag for Britain in the absence of former finalist Andy Murray, opens up against Australian teenager Alex de Minaur. Edmund is seeded 16th at the French Open after breaking into the top 20 this year.

But perhaps the encounter of the first round comes in the form of Nick Kyrgios v Bernard Tomic, with the two Australians drawn to face each other in a blockbuster opener.

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