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Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field and will face Alexander Zverev in the first round

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PARIS (AP) — Rafael Nadal is in the French Open field, after all, and Thursday’s draw set up the 14-time champion for a challenging first-round matchup against No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev.

“That’s going to be hard, but he is a warrior,” tournament director Amélie Mauresmo said. “Anything is possible with Rafa.”

This is expected to be Nadal’s last appearance at Roland Garros, and he had been coy about whether he would compete this time after two seasons of off-and-on action because of injuries, including a surgically repaired hip that forced him to miss his favorite tournament a year ago.

After a loss at the Italian Open this month, Nadal said he needed to think about whether to play in Paris. But the Spaniard, who turns 38 on June 3, has been practicing on the red clay at Roland Garros this week and his name was officially in the bracket.

The French Open begins on Sunday.

The Nadal-Zverev winner could be on a path toward a potential semifinal meeting against No. 1 seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic, whose opening opponent is French wild-card entry Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

The potential men’s quarterfinals are Djokovic against No. 7 Casper Ruud — who lost to Nadal in the 2022 final and 24-time major champion Djokovic in the 2023 final — and Zverev or Nadal against No. 5 Daniil Medvedev in the top half of the bracket, and No. 2 Jannik Sinner against No. 8 Hubert Hurkacz, and No. 3 Carlos Alcaraz versus No. 6 Andrey Rublev in the bottom half.

In the women’s draw, one intriguing semifinal could be No. 1 Iga Swiatek, who seeks a third consecutive French Open title, against No. 3 Coco Gauff, the reigning U.S. Open champion who lost to Swiatek in the Paris final two years ago.

“I’m starting to really feel at home here,” Swiatek said at the draw ceremony.

She will start off against someone who was in the qualifying rounds, and then could face four-time major champion and former No. 1 Naomi Osaka.

The possible women’s quarterfinals are Swiatek vs. No. 5 Marketa Vondrousova, and Gauff vs. No. 8 Ons Jabeur on the top half, and No. 2 Aryna Sabalenka vs. No. 6 Maria Sakkari, and No. 4 Elena Rybakina vs. No. 7 Zheng Qinwen on the bottom half.

Despite all of the success Nadal has enjoyed at the event — his career record there is 112-3 — the French tennis federation decided not to go against its usual rules that follow the ATP and WTA rankings to determine seedings.

So the 22-time major champion’s inactivity-affected ranking of No. 276 left him unseeded — which meant Nadal could be selected in the computerized, random draw to face any opponent to start. His matchup against Zverev, the 2020 U.S. Open runner-up and Tokyo Olympic gold medalist, is a rematch of their 2022 French Open semifinal that ended when Zverev tore ligaments in his right ankle.

Zverev, a 27-year-old from Germany, enters Roland Garros as a serious contender for what would be his first major title, coming off a trophy at the Italian Open on clay.

He’s drawn attention lately for a serious matter away from tennis: A court proceeding is scheduled to begin next week in Germany related to accusations of physical abuse made by an ex-girlfriend of his. Zverev does not need to attend and has said he won’t.

Another high-profile first-round matchup pits a pair of three-time Grand Slam champions against each other: Andy Murray, who just turned 37, versus Stan Wawrinka, who is 39. First-rounders to keep an eye on also include Australian Open runner-up Zheng against popular French veteran Alizé Cornet, who has said she will retire after the French Open, and two-time major finalist Karolina Pliskova against No. 15 seed Elina Svitolina, a three-time Grand Slam semifinalist.

One expected withdrawal was announced Thursday: fifth-ranked Jessica Pegula, an American who has reached six major quarterfinals.

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

By TOM NOUVIAN and HOWARD FENDRICH
Associated Press

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