Melbourne, Jan 14 (AP) Rafael Nadal will begin his questfor a "Rafa Slam" with a first-round match against MarcosDaniel of Brazil at the Australian Open.
The tournament draw held Friday put Nadal in the top halfalong with Andy Murray and Robin Soderling, providing toughpotential opponents en route to a possible final against No. 2seed Roger Federer. Third-seeded Novak Djokovic and Federerare both in the bottom half of the draw.
Nadal is bidding to become the first man in 42 years towin four straight Grand Slam tournaments. He won 2010 titlesat the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
Ivan Lendl, a former No. 1 and eight-time Grand Slamchampion who helped conduct Friday''s draw, said Nadal''sachievement would be a large piece of tennis history.
"In the men''s game we have had the pleasure of watchingrecords which many people thought would never be broken,''''Lendl said.
"We''re maybe on the edge of another one. First Pete(Sampras) beats (Roy) Emerson''s record and then Roger(Federer) beats Pete''s record. Now Rafa is possibly going towin four in a row, and if he wins a few more majors, then wewill start talking about him possibly passing Roger. It''s afantastic time in men''s tennis."
In a match involving the 2002 Wimbledon finalists,unseeded Lleyton Hewitt will take on David Nalbandian in thefirst round. Hewitt beat Nalbandian that year.
Defending champion Federer will take on Lukas Lacko,third-seeded Novak Djokovic will meet Marcel Granollers andBritish hope Murray, who lost to Federer in last year''s finalat Melbourne Park, plays Karol Beck.
American Andy Roddick, trying to win his first Grand Slamsince the 2003 U.S. Open, will play Jan Hajek of the CzechRepublic in his opener.
On the women''s side, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki willface Gisela Dulko of Argentina in the first round, while 2010finalist Justine Henin has drawn a qualifier. Fourth-seededVenus Williams was placed in the top half with Wozniacki andwill play Sarah Errani of Italy in the first round.
Serena Williams, the defending champion, will not playdue to her recovery from a foot injury.
U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, the No. 3 seed, willplay Dinara Safina of Russia in a match featuring two formerNo. 1 players. Safina has been hampered for much of the lastyear with a back injury.
Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion, plays TamarineTanasugarn of Thailand.
For the second straight day, rain pelted Melbourne Parkon Friday, affecting the qualifying tournament and forcing allmain-draw players to practice indoors. (AP) AH