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In what could be his last French Open, 14-times champion Rafa Nadal faces a tough task to avoid it all ending in a first-round exit when he plays Alexander Zverev on Monday.

Nadal had already announced that this could be the final season of his career but on his arrival in Paris the Spaniard said he could not yet be sure that he was ready to close the door on Roland Garros.

After missing last year’s tournament through injury, Nadal will be keen to make the most of his return, as will his fans, but standing in his way is fourth-seeded German Zverev, fresh from his triumph at the Italian Open.

“It’s not ideal the first match, because I feel competitive to have this match later in the tournament, but it’s how it is,” Nadal said.

“I need to be ready since the beginning. Let’s see.”

The meeting will bring back contrasting memories for both players of the last time they met, in a French Open semi-final in 2022, when Nadal went on to win yet another title in Paris, the last of his 22 Grand Slam victories.

Zverev was forced to retire from that match with an ankle injury.

He underwent surgery and ended up missing the rest of the season with another injury, but he returned last year to reach his third consecutive French Open semi-final.

With some of the other top players such as Novak Djokovic, Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz, struggling with injuries of late, this could be Zverev’s chance to finally win a Grand Slam.

The German might not have wanted to meet Nadal so early in the tournament but he was happy to have the chance to take him on again.

Nadal bidding to avoid early French Open exit

“I really wanted to play him here. I did not want to play him in the first round. I wanted to play him in the semi-finals, finals, a later stage of the tournament,” Zverev said.

“But at the end of the day, he’s not seeded, it is how it is, and I think we’re both prepared for a tough battle.”

World number two Sinner makes his return to action after sitting out the Italian Open following a hip injury at the Madrid Open, and takes on American Christopher Eubanks.

Iga Swiatek begins her title defence against French qualifier Leolia Jeanjean, and the Polish world number one comes to Paris on the back of title wins in Madrid and Rome.

American third seed Coco Gauff plays 21-year-old qualifier Julia Avdeeva, with the Russian making her Grand Slam debut.

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