Nadal to face Brazilian in 1st round at Aust Open

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.

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 practice 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.”

Jocelyn Gecker contributed to this story.