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Nadal pullout forces draw reshuffle

WORLD No. 1 and defending champion Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from Wimbledon led to a major reshuffle in the men's draw on Friday.

The Spaniard, who won the title for the first time last year after a mesmeric five-set final against Roger Federer, pulled out after deciding his painful knees could not survive two weeks of best-of-five-set matches.

Nadal, who has been struggling with tendinitis in his knees since being knocked out of the French Open last month, tested his fitness in two exhibition matches this week but after losing both decided not to defend his Wimbledon title just three days before the start of the major.

He will be the first man not to defend his All England Club crown since Croatia's Goran Ivanisevic skipped the grasscourt grand slam in 2002.

"Not to play Wimbledon is one of the toughest decisions in my career but it was made easier because I don't feel ready to compete at 100 percent for two weeks," said Nadal.

His spot on the top of the draw was taken by Argentine fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro, who had been in the lower half when the draw was initially made on Friday morning.

Del Potro will open his campaign against the world No. 49 Arnaud Clement of France and could face 2002 champion Lleyton Hewitt in the second round.

French Open champion Federer, in pursuit of a record 15th grand slam title, will open his account against Chinese Taipei's Lu Yen-hsun.

However, he will have noted that he could run into Roland Garros runner-up Robin Soderling for the second time in less than a month in the last 16. Big-serving Croatian dangerman Ivo Karlovic lurks as a potential last-eight opponent.

American sixth seed Andy Roddick, twice a runner-up in London, was paired with Frenchman Jeremy Chardy and could face del Potro in the quarterfinals.

In Nadal's absence, Germany's Nicolas Kiefer was promoted to 33rd seed and Brazilian lucky loser Thiago Alves was given a place in the 128-strong draw. There will be no top men's seed this year.

Defending women's champion and third seed Venus Williams, who is the favorite to win a sixth singles title at the grasscourt championships, faces Swiss Stefanie Voegele and could line up against world No. 1 Dinara Safina in the semis.

There could be an all-Williams final at Wimbledon for the second year running since the American sisters were drawn in different halves.

Second seed Serena Williams, the US Open and Australian Open holder, will begin against Portuguese qualifier Neuza Silva and could face a quarterfinal showdown against 2004 champion Maria Sharapova.


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