Nadal, Federer on opposite ends of Australian Open draw

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal learned Friday at the Australian Open draw that he is pitted in the top half with Andy Murray and Robin Soderling as he bids to become the first man in 42 years to win four straight Grand Slams.

Rafael Nadal, improving each day after catching a cold, will begin his quest for a "Rafa Slam" with a first-round match against Marcos Daniel of Brazil at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

The tournament draw held Friday put Nadal in the top half along with Andy Murray and Robin Soderling, providing tough potential opponents en route to a possible final against No. 2 seed Roger Federer. Third-seeded Novak Djokovic and Federer are both in the bottom half of the draw.

Nadal is bidding to become the first man in 42 years to win four straight Grand Slam tournaments. He won 2010 titles at the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. He could face No. 32-ranked Feliciano Lopez of Spain or American John Isner in the third round here.

Nadal arrived in Melbourne with a stuffy nose and congested chest which has hampered his preparation and nearly caused him to pull out of a tournament last week in Doha. The rainy Melbourne weather hasn't helped.

"I'm improving every day, hopefully I'm going to be completely recovered for next Monday," Nadal said Friday.

"I'm still a little bit [congested], but I don't have fever. I need a few more days maybe, but hopefully it's going to be fine."

"It is important to improve every day a little bit. A lot of times I didn't start a tournament playing my best and finished the tournament playing very, very good."

Ivan Lendl, a former No. 1 and eight-time Grand Slam champion who helped conduct Friday's draw, said Nadal's achievement would be a large piece of tennis history.

"In the men's game, we have had the pleasure of watching records 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 to win four in a row and, if he wins a few more majors, then we will start talking about him possibly passing Roger.

"It's a fantastic time in men's tennis."

In a match involving the 2002 Wimbledon finalists, unseeded Lleyton Hewitt will take on David Nalbandian in the first round. Hewitt beat Nalbandian that year.

"They've had some great battles over the last 10 years," tournament director Craig Tiley said. "It's a tough first round, but Lleyton will be looking forward to it.

"The depth in the men's draw and some of the first- and second-round potential matchups are unbelievable."

Defending champion Federer will take on Lukas Lacko, third-seeded Novak Djokovic will meet Marcel Granollers and British hope Murray, who lost to Federer in last year's final at Melbourne Park, plays Karol Beck.

American Andy Roddick, trying to win his first Grand Slam since the 2003 U.S. Open, will play Jan Hajek of the Czech Republic in his opener.

On the women's side, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki will face Gisela Dulko of Argentina in the first round, while 2010 finalist Justine Henin has drawn a qualifier. Fourth-seeded Venus Williams was placed in the top half with Wozniacki and will play Sarah Errani of Italy in the first round.

Serena Williams, the defending champion, will not play due to her recovery from a foot injury.

U.S. Open champion Kim Clijsters, the No. 3 seed, will play Dinara Safina of Russia in a match featuring two former No. 1 players. Safina has been hampered for much of the last year with a back injury.

Maria Sharapova, the 2008 champion, plays Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand.

For the second straight day, rain pelted Melbourne Park on Friday, affecting the qualifying tournament and forcing all main-draw players to practise indoors.

"We thought it was going to let up already," Tiley said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get any tennis in yesterday.

"With women's qualifying, we have yet to hit a ball. But the forecast for the weekend is good, certainly going into next week we're looking for a pretty good long-range forecast the entire week."