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Nadal handed tricky path in French Open

WORLD No. 1 Rafael Nadal faces a potentially treacherous task in his bid to win a fifth consecutive French Open title following yesterday's draw for the tournament starting tomorrow.

The top seed, unbeaten at Roland Garros since his debut in 2005, is in the same half of the draw as Briton Andy Murray and Spanish eighth seed Fernando Verdasco, who gave him a rough time in the Australian Open semifinals.

Following a first-round match against a qualifier, the Spaniard could meet former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt and compatriot David Ferrer before a possible quarterfinal match against Verdasco or twice French Open semifinalist Nikolay Davydenko of Russia. Third-seeded Murray starts his bid for a first grand slam title against Argentine Juan Ignacio Chela.

Swiss second seed Roger Federer, chasing the only grand slam title to have eluded him, faces Spaniard Alberto Martin en route to a possible fourth consecutive final with Nadal, whom he beat in the Madrid Masters final.

Federer has a possible quarterfinal encounter against American sixth seed Andy Roddick, beaten in Madrid in their only claycourt meeting in 20 duels.

One of the highlights of Federer's campaign could be a semifinal with world No. 4 Novak Djokovic of Serbia who, following a first-round match against Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti, is looking at a quarterfinal clash with Argentine Juan Martin del Potro.

French veteran Fabrice Santoro, playing his last French Open and a record 67th grand slam, takes on Belgium's Christophe Rochus in a possibly spectacular match.

In the women's draw, world No. 1 Dinara Safina's path looks smooth until a possible quarterfinal clash with holder Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, her executioner in last year's final.

Russian Safina, chasing her first grand slam title, will start her campaign against unheralded Anne Keothavong of Britain.

She could then face compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, seeded 27th, in the third round and Chinese 15th seed Zheng Jie in the fourth round.

Eighth seed Ivanovic, who has won only two matches on clay this season and is just back from a knee injury, could have to deal with Belarus's Victoria Azarenka, seeded ninth, in the fourth round.

Second seed Serena Williams, who has yet to win a match on clay this season, looks set to progress smoothly before a potential quarterfinal against Russian seventh seed Svetlana Kuznetsova.

An all-Russian semifinal is then a possibility if fourth seed Elena Dementieva survives a theoretical quarterfinal against Serbian fifth seed Jelena Jankovic of Serbia.

Russian Maria Sharapova, back from an nine-month injury layoff, faces Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus in the first round.


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