Nadal handed tough French Open draw

Rafael Nadal was handed potential clashes with Lleyton Hewitt as well as Spanish compatriots David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco.

updated: May 22, 2009 12:01 IST
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Rafael Nadal's path to a record fifth successive French Open title looked more like a minefield on Friday when he was handed potential clashes with Lleyton Hewitt as well as Spanish compatriots David Ferrer and Fernando Verdasco.

Top seed Nadal will begin his campaign against a qualifier, but then could run straight into Australian former world number one Hewitt, who showed his claycourt ability in April when he won the Houston event.

Nadal, who has never lost at Roland Garros, beat Hewitt in the fourth round here in 2005 and 2006.

Hewitt, battling back from hip surgery last year, and now ranked at 50 in the world, first faces 26th seed Ivo Karlovic.

The giant Croatian shocked Wimbledon in 2003 when he knocked the Australian, who was the defending champion, out in the opening round.

Claycourt specialist David Ferrer, twice a quarter-finalist, is a possible fourth round opponent with Verdasco, the eighth seed, a likely last eight rival.

Second seed Roger Federer, still searching for an elusive Roland Garros title to add to his 13 majors, and having lost the last three finals here to Nadal, starts against Spain's Alberto Montanes.

Old American rival Andy Roddick is seeded to face him in the last eight.

Third seeded Scotsman Andy Murray renews his fierce rivalry with Argentinians when he meets Juan Ignacio Chela in the first round, while fourth seed Novak Djokovic, a semi-finalist in the last two years, faces experienced Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador in his first match.

If the seeding works to plan, then Nadal would face Murray in the semi-finals while Djokovic would take on Federer.

Nadal will be happy to see Djokovic in the other half of the draw having had to overcome three match points in a marathon four-hour, Madrid Masters semi-final against the Serbian last weekend.

That effort left the Spaniard exhausted by the time he played Federer in the final with the Swiss coasting to his first trophy of 2009 and ending Nadal's 33-match winning streak on clay.

Argentina's Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 champion and the last man to win the French Open before Nadal began his monopoly, has a wildcard and meets Czech 18th seed Radek Stepanek.

Women's top seed Dinara Safina of Russia, the runner-up in 2008, faces Britain's Anne Keothavong in the first round with defending champion Ana Ivanovic of Serbia tackling Italy's Sara Errani.

Second seed, and 2002 champion Serena Williams, faces the Czech Republic's Klara Zakopalova in the first round while sister Venus, the third seed, meets fellow American Bethanie Mattek-Sands.

Former world number one Maria Sharapova, who has just returned from almost 10 months on the sidelines because of a shoulder injury, is unseeded and faces Anastasiya Yakimova of Belarus.

Sharapova, a semi-finalist in 2007, could meet fellow Russian Vera Zvonareva, the sixth seed, in the fourth round.

Safina, the winner of the Madrid Open last weekend, could face promising compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the third round and Ivanovic in the quarter-finals.

The Williams sisters are in opposite sides of the draw.

A win for either of them would mean a family sweep of the Grand Slams with Serena the reigning US and Australian Open queen while Venus is Wimbledon champion.