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.